How to deal with reading comprehension deficiencies

November 3, 2015

From its Latin root, comprehensio, meaning to understand, comprehension is defined as the "capacity for understanding fully." As such, reading comprehension is vital to learning — without it, words on a page are meaningless. Here's how to deal with reading comprehension deficiencies.

How to deal with reading comprehension deficiencies

Reading comprehension deficiencies

Identifying a child with weak reading comprehension skills can be fairly simple, but improving those skills can be a deep and complicated process.

When determining where a child's weakness may lie regarding comprehension, there are three key possibilities to keep in mind:

  • A lack of skill in decoding words/sounds
  • General low academic performance
  • Minimal background knowledge in what they're reading

Any of these deficiencies can and will make comprehension at any level extremely difficult.

For example, if a child has poor word identification (decoding skills), it will be challenging for him or her to comprehend what they're reading. This difficulty comes from a lack of understanding of how sounds make the words he or she is reading and how the words together make the meaning.

If a child doesn't know the words, it's unlikely that he or she will gain any meaningful instruction or meaning from what they're reading.


Many believe that all three possibilities stem from the same area: the child's sets of schema (or "schemata" when plural).

A schema correlates with a child's background knowledge prior to reading any written material.

For a simplistic view of schema at work, look at how the numbered items below build on each other from the key idea of "guitar."

  1. Guitar
  2. Strings
  3. Six
  4. Notes
  5. E, A, D, G, B, E

As shown, a child's schemata works similar to building blocks. It is always in a state of flux, since it's constantly being built upon with new words, phrases, and meanings, regarding a child's reading comprehension ability.

For a child to comprehend what they're reading, they must process the new information that the act of reading is delivering. This process usually occurs in this sequence:

  • learning and adding new facts
  • adjusting what we already know to the text being read
  • acquiring entirely new knowledge from what we're reading.

Testing for comprehension deficiencies

When attempting to discover a child's reading comprehension level, there are two key tests to keep in mind:

  • norm-referenced
  • criterion-referenced

A norm-referenced test compares students to other children in similar demographics, such as grade level, school, or region.

One example of a norm-referenced test is a comprehension survey test.

Conversely, criterion-referenced tests provide diagnostic data. An IRI (Informal Reading Inventory) is an example of a criterion-referenced test. The IRI examines word identification skills, strategies, and comprehension.

Reading comprehension can always be improved

As noted, a child's reading comprehension level is always a work in progress.

If deficiencies are in question, it's important to assess where those deficiencies lie before taking any further action.

However, once an area of weakness has been determined, a clear plan can be put in place to improve a child's ability to comprehend any text they wish to read. And, with an improved level of comprehension, a child's daily academics become a much easier endeavour.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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