Reading vs Understanding

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"Is reading equal to understanding?"


A common misconception that some parents have regarding reading is that being able to say the words aloud means that they understand what they are reading out.

This is not the case, however, as reading only requires the child to verbalise letters into sounds, but not to comprehend what they are verbalising. So how do we assess their understanding? Or to go one step further, how can we improve their understanding for this matter?

To test their understanding, we need to test the child based on the content read and requiring the child to answer. This is in essence requiring the child to paraphrase the contents that they have read. Ability to do this shows understanding, and the speed and type of answer will demonstrate the degree of understanding.

To understand how to improve the child’s comprehension will require the knowledge of comprehension itself. Comprehension comes to the child from 2 main categories of events, namely from prior experience by oneself, or from prior reading similar to the passage. Where the child has sufficient prior experience to relate to or enough exposure to such reading, then the understanding will be enhanced.

Another area to note is if there are any hindering factors to the child’s comprehension ability. One important factor is the presence of difficult vocabulary, which will affect the child’s ability to process the entire context. The reason is that they spend too much mental energy on understanding individual words, which leads to diminished understanding of the context as a whole.

One other problem which leads to diminished understanding of the passage is using phonics to blend even simple words, such as the Sight Words. Here at Mrs Sam’s, we always require the child to understand simple texts that they read through learning Sight Words first, before allowing them to join our advanced phonics programme. We must always remember that the purpose of reading is not to read aloud fluently, but to understand the text. Phonics helps the child to understand the words and the context as a whole  by providing a framework to help in spelling, pronouncing  and remembering new words. This enables meanings to be attached to the words readily, so that the child can focus on understanding the next time they come across the word. Hence phonics is only a tool, albeit a powerful one, to help the child to learn reading.

Check out this and this article to find out even more about the research behind teaching reading comprehension.

In summary, to improve the child’s understanding,

  1. Expose the child to more things in life
  2. Teach the child how to increase their vocabulary independently
  3. Ask questions which require the child to predict, infer and summarise the text so as to test their understanding.
  4. Guide the child frequently in their reading, rather than just asking the child to read aloud
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