Reading comprehension: a challenge for students and teachers

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The habit of reading has become a competency very few people develop or maintain in the 21st century, yet, it is as important as ever. In this article, we provide the different levels, skills, and factors that affect reading comprehension. Understanding these aspects is fundamental for teachers and students in order to improve the results of reading appropriation.

Photo: Wikimedia

By Luisa Guillermina Ramírez Mazariegos
luisag.ramirez@itesm.mx

Who reads a book, a newspaper or a story in this day and age? The habit of reading in the 21st century has become a competency very few people develop or maintain, in order to discover and travel through the marvelous world of the imagination.  Reading is a means by which we can communicate. 

If we refer specifically to the linguistic aspect, the communication competency consists of the capacity to implement the communication process correctly, including all its components and following the correct order of the process involved: using the appropriate linking words or phrases to understand, formulate and interpret the diverse communication events, considering the explicit or literal meaning (not just what is said, but also what is implied) as well as the explicit or intentional meaning  (what the writer wants to say or what the reader wants to understand).

Reading is a means by which we can communicate. 

The four major skill groups language users must master in order to communicate effectively in every possible situation, also known as basic communication skills, are: speaking, listening, reading and writing. These basic communication skills are indispensable for living in a society since at least one of them is used in every area of life. In this regard, Rivers and Tempeley and Gauquelin, cited by Cassany, et al., (2000) outline very interesting data in relation to language skills, such as the affirmation that communication takes up approximately 80% of human beings’ total time. This time is distributed as follows: listening 45%, speaking 30%, reading 16% and writing 9%.

Comprehension is the aptitude or astuteness to understand things. «Reading comprehension» is the development of meanings through the acquisition of the most important ideas of a text and the possibility of forming links between these and other ideas acquired beforehand.  A text can be understood literally (focusing on the information presented explicitly), critically (with judgements based on the values of the text) or inferentially (reading and understanding between the lines), etc.

The basic communication skills are speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Speaking of communication, reading comprehension is the capacity to understand what is being read, regarding both the meaning of the words that form a text and the overall understanding of the text itself. It is the process through which meanings are generated and related to the concepts that already have a meaning for the reading. In this way, the reader "interacts" with the text. Nevertheless, we cannot always understand the message enclosed in the text or we might get the meaning wrong. Understanding is a complex process that implies grasping the meanings that others have transmitted through everything surrounding it. Reading comprehension is not that simple; it is a process in which the reader has to identify words and meanings.

Reading comprehension is the capacity to understand what is being read, regarding both the meaning of the words that form a text and the overall understanding of the text itself.

The concept of comprehension at the high school or undergraduate levels is broader; it refers to understanding, justifying or containing something. The skills required by students at these levels for reading comprehension are:

1.    Prior knowledge.
2.    Anticipation.
3.    Prediction.
4.    Observation.
5.    Monitoring.
6.    Inference.
7.    Paraphrasing.
8.    Analysis.
9.    Conclusion.
 
There are diverse levels of depth of reading comprehension because readers grasp things in different ways. Therefore, it is important, when constructing reading comprehension strategies, for the teacher and the students to know the level reached in each text read, in order to implement strategies to improve the process. The factors that have an impact on reading comprehension are: the reader, the text, the prior knowledge possessed by the person and the ways used to perform this action. 

There are diverse levels of depth of reading comprehension because readers grasp things in different ways.

The reading levels that can be achieved are:

Literal reading at a primary level (level 1)
-    Sequences: identify the order of actions; 
-    By comparison: identify explicit characters, times and places; 
-    Cause and effect: identify explicit reasons for certain events or actions. Where they also use certain terms as the basis for formulating a piece of work. 

In-depth literal reading (level 2)
A more in-depth reading is effected, delving into the comprehension of the text, recognizing the successive ideas and the main topic, creating charts, conceptual maps, summaries and syntheses. Most of these techniques are more suitable for expository rather than literary texts.
 
Inferential level (level 3)
Readers seek relationships beyond the text, explain the text more extensively, adding information and previous experiences, relating what they have read to their prior knowledge, formulating hypotheses and new ideas. The goal of the inferential level is to reach conclusions.  This level of comprehension is rarely practiced at school, since it requires a considerable degree of abstraction on the part of the reader. It favors relating the text with other fields of knowledge and the integration of new knowledge as a whole.
 
Critical level (level 4)
Readers give their opinions on the text read, accepting or rejecting but in an informed manner. Critical reading is evaluative, involving readers’ preparation, criterion and knowledge of what they have read. Opinions take into account the qualities of precision, acceptability, probability. Opinions can be:
 
1.    Reality or fantasy: according to the readers’ experience with the things surrounding them.
2.    Adaptation and validity: comparing what is written with other sources of information.
3.    Appropriation: requires relative evaluation in the different parts in order to assimilate it.
4.  Rejection or acceptance: depends on the reader’s moral code and system of values.
 
Appreciative level (level 5)
Comprises the previous cognitive dimensions. It includes:
 
1.    An emotional response to the content: readers must verbalize it in terms of interest, excitement, boredom, fun, fear, hatred.  
2.    Identification with the characters and incidents, consciousness toward them, sympathy and empathy.
3.    Reactions to the author’s language.
4.    Similes and metaphors: evaluation of the writer’s artistic capacity to depict through words what the reader can visualize, like, hear and feel.
 
If the text is literary, we must also, at this level, refer to aesthetic values, style, expression resources, etc., but this aspect requires more advanced readers and should therefore only be used in higher courses.

Each reading level depends on each individual’s reading comprehension capacity. Although not all students should reach the same level, they can all develop this competency and improve the results of reading appropriation. I would like to invite all the Observatory of Educational Innovation followers to become readers and be carried away by the infinite world of knowledge that can be accessed through reading.     


About the author
Luisa Guillermina Ramírez Mazariegos teaches Comunicaciones, Literature, Spanish Language, Art and Culture classes in the Humanities Department at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Hidalgo. She holds a Ph.D. in Education and has written two books, one on Reading Comprehension and the other on Leadership. She is currently working on Leaders Tec 21 and NOVUS projects.