Given that much of my tutoring practices is dedicated to serving IB students, I am always surprised at the number of them who do not read especially well. Under the headline “Vocabulary Declines, with Unspeakable Results,” E.D. Hirsch, Jr., writes about some of the reasons that today’s students have such trouble with reading comprehension.
Three lines in the article that struck me as true were these: “Students don’t learn new words by studying vocabulary lists. They do so by guessing new meanings within the overall gist of what they are hearing and reading. And understanding the gist requires background knowledge.”
Part of the reason students are such poor readers is that they have not learned a great deal of background that helps them decode difficult written material.
A stack of flashcards isn’t the way to go in most cases because students do best decoding new words in context and the lack of good comprehension is due to a lack of background knowledge to decode. The solution: A reading program that includes fiction and non-fiction selections from a variety of disciplines can help poor readers gradually develop that background to get better at decoding. The gains come slowly, but–good news–they are cumulative.
Any parent of a child struggling with reading comprehension should read Hirsch’s Op Ed piece.
Eric Anderson is Language Arts tutor and history tutor based in Wesley Chapel, Florida. Contact him by phone at 813.787.8959. He makes house calls and can help your son or daughter become a better reader.