Characteristics of the Poor Comprehender and Implications for Instruction

Poor comprehenders often suffer from what experts call learned helplessness. Some children who struggle when they are learning how to read develop a negative perception of themselves as learners.

This self- concept of being helpless in a learning situation leads the struggling reader to believe that he/she has little or no internal control over success and failure. They underestimate their ability and expect to do poorly in future learning situations.

These expectations of failure often lead to poor motivation, which in turn leads to inactive learning meaning they do not engage in strategic efforts to promote effective learning. This inaction leads to more failure, which confirms their negative perception of themselves as learners. A child’s personal beliefs about himself/herself as a learner does influence how a child addresses and solves problems that they encounter when comprehending.

Problem: Young readers often don’t realize they must attempt to make sense of the text.
Solution: They need to be taught that comprehension is the goal of reading and that decoding is a means to the end goal of comprehending.

Problem: Poor comprehenders tolerate inconsistencies and contradictions when they are reading and don’t self-correct errors or miscues they make when reading.
Solution: They need to have direct instruction in how to self-question in order to monitor their comprehension.

Problem: Poor comprehenders don’t adjust their rate or speed of reading to accommodate difficult material or when the task is difficult. You may well use a powerpoint presentation to address this issue, but don’t forget to reduce the size of your files!
Solution: Students need to be taught self-awareness so that they look at their own strengths and weaknesses in relation to the task requirements. In order for students to develop this self-awareness, it is critical that the task is made clear to the students. “Why am I reading this?” “To take a test?” “To be able to contribute to a discussion?” How one reads and what strategies one uses depends on the reader and the task.

Problem: Poor comprehenders seem to be unaware that strategies exist and could be used to monitor and fix-up comprehension breakdowns.
Solution: They need to be directly taught strategies and given a direct explanation and guided practice with

  • WHAT a strategy is
  • WHY and HOW a reader uses a strategy
  • WHEN and WHERE a reader might use a strategy, be it in-class or through an online instruction course.

How to Assess a Struggling Reader

  • Make sure the child’s vision and hearing are in the normal range.
  • Running records are the best measure of a child’s reading behavior.
    For more information see Running Record Assessment
  • Take running records often and analyze them to inform your instruction.
  • Ask the reader to articulate his reading strategies and confusions.
  • Record anecdotal notes as you observe the reader participating in
    literacy and other activities.
  • Include retelling of text reading in your assessment.
  • Teach the reader to become more aware of his/her reading behaviors through self-assessments.
  • Include written responses in the assessment.
  • Ask other teachers with whom the child works for their insights into the reader’s learning strengths and challenges.
  • Include the child’s parents in the assessment. Ask questions about reading habits at home.

General Guidelines for Working with a Struggling Reader

  • Treat the child as capable and developing, not as incapable and lacking.
  • Emphasize the child’s strengths.
  • Design a program of intervention that is specific to a child’s needs.
  • Provide choice because a child’s interests are important for improving reading.
  • Ensure the child reads easy books 80% of the time, instructional books 20% of the time, and difficult books 0% of the time.
  • Include daily reading at home as a requirement. Like any other skill, reading only improves with practice.
  • Read aloud to children of all ages. It motivates them, engages them in the love of reading, exposes them to rich vocabulary and the language of books, and is a model of fluent reading