Helping poor comprehenders

Some students are able to read words aloud accurately and somewhat fluently in terms of rate, but do not demonstrate understanding of what they have read. These students are referred to in research literature as poor comprehenders.

The Simple View of Reading is presented schematically below to illustrate the two main sources of variability in reading skills. It shows how problems with one component of reading comprehension can occur independently of problems with the other. For example, children with specific comprehension problems (poor comprehenders) can be differentiated from children who have specific word reading problems (i.e., dyslexia) or generally poor readers.

Sub-types of reader according to the Simple View of Reading

The problems of poor comprehenders often do not become apparent before the 3rd or 4th year of schooling. Children are sometimes perceived as ‘good readers’ (i.e., good at word decoding) because the material they are being asked to read and understand in the early years of school is typically not very demanding in terms of language comprehension.

It has been estimated that around 5–7% of children in middle school are poor comprehenders but that teacher judgement alone is not accurate in identifying them (Kelso et al., 2020; Nation, 2018).

According to the non-categorical approach, poor comprehenders require more, and more targeted, comprehension instruction rather than a qualitatively different type of comprehension instruction. There does not seem to be a single underlying source of poor comprehension so  intervention will need to be based on careful assessment (Spear-Swerling, n.d.). For some children, a small group intervention for a limited time with other students who are exhibiting difficulties with the same aspects of comprehension may be sufficient. For others with more severe difficulties or those who have not responded to a small group intervention, a more intensive and personalised one-to-one intervention may be required.

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