Reading Comprehension: How to Help Students with Disabilities

Image of Four Students Sitting at a Table with a Teacher Reading a Book with the Text "Reading Comprehension: How to Help Students with Disabilities".

What Is Reading Comprehension?

Reading Comprehension is simple. It is understanding what you have read. As teachers, I think we overcomplicate reading for our students. And for our students with disabilities, they are especially overwhelmed.

Reading comprehension isn’t answering an open-ended question. It isn’t comparing three passages on the same topic. It is so much more simple than that. To better help them improve reading comprehension, we need to take a look at the foundation of reading.

What Impacts Reading Comprehension?

In my mind there are three barriers that stand in the way of students understanding what they read. These are background knowledge, the ability to multitask, and vocabulary.

Lack of Background Knowledge

Poverty and ethnicity impact the experiences and opportunities that our students have to develop background knowledge in a big way. Without background knowledge, it is hard for students to draw conclusions, visualize, and relate to the central idea.

Another huge factor in a student’s ability to understand what they read is their fluid intelligence. This depicts how a student will experience an event and what information they will retain. A student with a higher fluid intelligence is able to remember, obtain, and understand more of an event than someone with a lower fluid intelligence.

Ability to Multitask

While reading, we are thinking about how so many things! We’re thinking recalling words, chunking words into phrases, and focusing on fluency. Meanwhile our brains are processing the details in the text that allow us to learn new information, visualize a setting, identify a character’s problem, and question the author. Reading is truly a BIG job for our brains.

Limited Vocabulary

This one is an obvious one, but it is also often overlooked. If students do not understand the meaning of the words they are reading, it can affect the entire meaning of that passage. It is important to take time for vocabulary.

To help your students, find quick and easy ways to help them understand new and difficult words. You could spend time looking them up in a dictionary or online, use picture cards, videos, or stories to help your students better understand the new word.

Image of Three of Primary Gal's Resource Room Reading Series Booklets on a Desk

What Do Good Readers Do?

If those are the barriers, what do good readers do? Good readers do a lot as they’re reading. Good readers make predictions, monitor comprehension, and read accurately and rapidly. They note organization and structure, make mental notes, ask questions, make inferences, and visualize. There is so much that goes into being a good reader, and they do it all without even thinking about it.

At first, all of that sounded so intimidating. How am I going to get my kids to do those things?! In the book Ten Essential Instructional Elements for Students with Reading Difficulties by Andrew P. Johnson, I came across a sentence that made me feel a little less intimidated. He said, “We can improve comprehension by improving thinking skills.”

Thanks, Andrew! I’ll work on that. ❤️ Over the next six weeks, I’ll be share blog posts to help you improve thinking skills in your students.

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