An Introduction to Reading Comprehension: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

One of the main pillars of reading, comprehension represents the ability to understand, process, and interpret written text with ease. Although it sounds easy enough, the act of comprehension actually involves complex cognitive processes, going well beyond decoding words from a page. It involves analyzing, synthetizing, understanding, and interpreting written pieces of text, either from a book, an article, an essay, and so on. Reading comprehension is an active process, not a passive one, and it requires a deep level of engagement with the text, as well as a deeper level of understanding. 

What does reading comprehension involve?

To put plainly, reading comprehension is a person’s ability to read, process, and understand the meaning behind written text. It involves two components, namely word coding, or the ability to decode the symbols on a page, and language comprehension, which is the ability to understand the meaning behind the words and sentences. 

To be able to understand the meaning behind a text, the reader must also be able to comprehend and decode the vocabulary used in that text. This means the reader must be able to easily decode the letters and words on the page, and immediately recognize the words and their meaning. Young children are constantly learning new words and expanding their vocabulary, and this helps develop comprehension skills. If a child already knows all the words in a text, they will be able to process their meaning much quicker and with ease. However, if they encounter unfamiliar letters, symbols, or words, this can stop them in their tracks and prevent them from grasping the full meaning behind the text as a whole. 

Good reading comprehension involves a few crucial components, or areas that teachers can focus on to help students struggling with comprehension and reading fluency. This includes vocabulary skills, background knowledge, understanding language structure, integration and inference skills, and knowledge and use of text structure. 

Students in your classroom might be struggling with reading comprehension because their reading is too slow, or because they’re not able to easily decode written text. They might struggle with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, or they might lack the proper language skills. It’s important as a teacher to work with and monitor each individual student’s progress to pinpoint what they’re struggling with and where they need help. 

Why is reading comprehension important?

Reading comprehension is achieved when the reader is able to not only read the written text with prosody, but also understand and grasp its meaning, the context, and other details that require a deeper level of engagement with the text. Comprehension is a crucial pillar of the act of reading, because without it, a person will struggle to find the hidden meaning in a text, recognize the author’s intentions, analyze the message behind the text, and so on. Not being able to comprehend written text with ease can also lead to poor academic performance for young children and teens, and this can have a big impact on their professional and personal lives. 

Without comprehension, reading is reduced to a simple process of tracking written symbols on a page without understanding their meaning, the context, the story behind them. It’s like looking at ancient Egypt hieroglyphs without knowledge on how to decode them; you can appreciate the beauty of the written text and perhaps get subtle hints at what they might represent, but you won’t be able to understand what they’re saying and why. Comprehension allows the reader to extract knowledge and information from the written text, to form a story, and it’s an essential part of literacy and being a fluent reader. 

Reading comprehension also plays a critical role in our daily lives. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to read, understand, analyze, and interpret housing bills, contracts, transportation documents, school or work assignments, reports, instruction manuals, medicine dosage instructions, and so on. Not being able to comprehend written text can significantly hinder a person’s ability to evolve and develop socially, emotionally, and professionally. 

If you want to learn more strategies to help children in your classroom struggling with fluency and comprehension, don’t hesitate to reach out to Da Vinci Collaborative. Our team of specialized experts and counselors are ready to help. 

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