Reading is one of the most important skills for success in school and in life. Unfortunately, difficulty with reading is one of the most common problems for elementary school children. According to the Public Broadcasting Service, roughly 85 percent of all children diagnosed with learning problems face difficulty reading. Early identification of students who struggle with reading comprehension can allow successful intervention by teachers and parents.
Oral Reading Disfluency
One sure sign of reading comprehension problems is difficulty reading out loud. The National Center for Learning Disabilities, NCLD, reports that oral reading problems are highly correlated with reading comprehension problems. Children who struggle to read age-appropriate text out loud almost always struggle to comprehend similar texts when reading silently. For example, many struggling students may skip words or struggle to pronounce familiar words or phrases. However, NCLD also notes that practice reading out loud does not necessarily improve reading comprehension. Such interventions may treat a symptom rather than addressing the problem directly.
Decoding words, or the process of sounding out new words, is an essential skill for reading comprehension. Students who struggle to decode words almost always struggle with spelling, too. Neuropsychologist Gail Silverstein notes that spelling requires children to remember letter sounds to form complete words. Consequently, poor spelling is a reliable indicator that a child is struggling to remember letter sounds and combinations. That means they will also struggle to decode words, since they may not remember what sound a letter makes. As Kate Nation, a psychology professor at Oxford, notes, "there can be no reading comprehension without the ability to decipher or recognize words."
Beginning in the fifth and sixth grades, students usually have to do more writing in school. Difficulty writing is a sign of reading comprehension problems, according to Silverstein. The writing of children with reading problems is often rife with grammatical and spelling errors. Poor readers often struggle to fulfill minimum sentence or page requirements on essays and other assignments. They are likely to avoid or become upset by writing assignments.
A final sign of poor reading comprehension is limited vocabulary. Students with reading problems are slow to learn new words. According to Silverstein, they often rely on ambiguous words like "thing" and "stuff" because they struggle to find more precise language. Similarly, Nation notes that children with reading comprehension problems routinely score lower on vocabulary tests. Again, however, NCLD argues that poor vocabulary is a symptom rather than a cause of the problem. Simply reviewing vocabulary is unlikely to help struggling readers.