Comprehension-Steps through learning.

For many of the children you see, a large amount of what is written is learned quickly and without effort. There will always be a minority that struggle. This list is to give some direction as to what to look for and to take time to remedy. I would like to highlight that when you see a consistent spelling error in written language we should consider the issue in a deeper matter, that is, maybe it is a symptom of something significant ‘a learning difficulty’.  


  1. Directional and positional comprehension.

    It is not always natural for children to begin reading from the left and work to the right. Similarly, it is difficult for some children to see what is the top of the page and what is the bottom. So, what we find is that the letters, mainly b and d, and b, p and q, and numbers, can start from all over the place and become reversed and flipped. Therefore, when we are teaching the writing of letters it is important to tell children where to start and to take note of where they are beginning the task and with some students to persevere.

As letters develop into words, some children read and write the letters from the wrong side. ‘Was’ becomes ‘saw’ and three letter words can be written perfectly backwards. So, effort for many children, needs to be placed on just on where they start and which is top, which is bottom.

One of our aims, as we teach children to read, is to increase the number of words children can perceive, reading from left to right. Also, they need to be able to read along one line and then move to the next at the beginning without jumping lines. They need to be able to ‘track’.

Children who face directional and positional difficulties of carry issues relating to this throughout their lives. An example would be having to work out which way to turn a tap if you want to the water to flow. Another example would be setting a table and having to work out which side the knives go in each setting.

  1. Comprehension of space

    An aspect of this form of comprehension is the correspondence of the word with the picture. I have had children saying 'c-a-t apple' because the picture of an apple was in a prominent part of the page, even though the word cat was immediately below a picture of a cat. 

    Another issue is where a page has text separated by a picture. Often children will read only one section of the page rather than the top and the bottom. So, for some students, awareness of the page and what to expect is important. Today’s classroom, equipped with screens etc. it is easy to show page after page of examples and even make videos of correct practice.

We often assume that children come to the reception areas of the school with a comprehension of the things above. But that is not guaranteed. These issues appear in the dyslexic child; those suffer from auditory discrimination and other categories of learning difficulties.

3. Letter, sound comprehension

If there are issues in the aspects of comprehension above, then a child will have trouble with the direction of letters and have a problem with associating letters with sounds. For example, holding up a letter 'b' and make the appropriate sound in front of a student, is no guarantee that the child is associating it with the correct letter. Any guarantee that a child will grow out of this kind of difficulty, maybe wishful thinking.

What we want is for the child to associate the correct sound with the appropriate symbol. So, when we say 'a' the child recognises the proper symbol. With children with learning difficulties this may take a long time and much repetition. Children with ESL background, you may have to practice how the sound is made. Similarly, those with a speech impediment.

  1. Word synthesis.

The next step for the child is to see the make up the words we use every day. We are not introducing words that a child doesn't know but ones that students would be aware of and use in their speech. In the longer term, we may wish to extend the way our children use them but initially they are not new. In this area, we are tying the sounds to letters and then synthesising them into the words that already have some understanding of. Generally, we do it by introducing a new skill called 'sounding out'. It is what I call an intermediary skill, although it does have some uses later. This skill enables the student to say 's-a-t-- sat'. The students synthesise the word. One of the difficulties that students have, through having not the above comprehended the above situations is they have difficulty correlating the sounds. A further difficulty comes as reading begins. Some children have real difficulties moving from sounding to whole word recognition. 

5. Segmentation   Comprehension

When writing, children need do the opposite to synthesis; they segment the word. They think 'sat-s-a-t'. From this they learn to write the word.

Two key problems can be found in this area. Firstly, if you teach 'sat' early in the program as often recommended, those with difficulty will always recognise 'sat’ when it should be 'sit' or 'set'. There are similar examples where children seek to remain with the first version of a word and not those that similar.

A difficulty that is experienced here, is the inability for the vision proves to pick up the whole word, and the middle sound. Those children that want to read from the wrong direction tend to guess from the last letter, while those who naturally read from the left guess from the first letter.

6. Comprehension of long vowel sounds as indicated by the silent 'e'. 
For children who have difficulty, this is a key learning area. It is so important they will add ‘e’ to every word just to make sure they are safe. There needs to be key word lists associated with the teaching of this step. Similarly, with digraphs when there are several different ways of spelling same sound. This problem is amplified with children who have auditory issues. The association with set of appropriate wordlists is critical and making sure to keep the number of teaching points as few as possible.

7.  Comprehension of digraphs
Sounds can be symbolised be one letter, and by two and sometimes more. Here we need to be careful. These sounds are associated with very clear set of words. A child with difficulty is likely to use one digraph for all situations. If taught 'ow' as 'brown' then the student will write 'rownd' for 'round'. Usually these student's work is highly phonetic, but requires a translator. 

Students with this kind of difficulty will also struggle with handwriting and neatness.

One further difficulty that occurs with students with learning difficulties, especially those with auditory problems is they cannot always hear the sounds and their order. On occasions, they will not pick up some sounds at all. A word like ‘bold’ will often have a letter missing or ‘glad’ will have the position of the ‘l’ in the incorrect position.

  1. Comprehension of the whole word and word patterns

    After sounding out words the student will learn to recognise the word and say it on sight. That does not mean that they will be able to spell it or use it in a written language exercise. The understanding of word patterns should always be growing. Coupled with this is an increasing knowledge of what words are associated with each letter pattern.

    9. Comprehension that helps predict the next word.
    When a student sounds out each word, cognition only happens intermittently. Comprehension will occur if the book is simple enough.

It is at this point that reversals and flipping disappear. At this stage ‘big’ and ‘dig’ or ‘did’ and ‘bib’ confusion begin to disappear because we are adding another dimension; that of meaning.  You have a ‘big dog’ not a ‘dig dog’.

Our aim would be for the child to develop a comprehension level, the where the child would be self-correcting any inaccurately recognised phrases or words.  Ultimately, when a child reads a list of words they would be able to self-correct mispronunciation using only the context of the word itself.

  1. Comprehension That Shows Fluency.

Fluency is important. It is related to reading speed. Increased reading speed supports comprehension and is important for higher order comprehension levels that involve understanding of sequence, consequence, selecting the main idea etc.

  1. 11. Comprehension of Segmentation into Syllables

Earlier we talked about segmentation with simple words. In this section, will we need to be able to segment words into syllables; that is breakdown words into groups of letters that make syllable sense. This is important because as words get larger we need to be able to identify sections and synthesise them as well as segment in the reading and writing process. When we come across a new word that is made up of many letters it's often not a matter of sounding out all the letters as you might when you first see a word like ‘bend’, but looking at sections that are necessary in a word like ‘sensible’. 

This means we would have to understand the rules that are involved in arriving at a group of syllables and then can put them together so that we can say the words of the length and possibly not previously known

  1. Comprehension That Allows Emphasis.

Emphasis is a clear outcome that demonstrates reading comprehension. However, it does not guarantee spelling ability and the lack of that may indicate difficulty in earlier comprehension steps. To bring spelling up to standard you may still have progress through the sound lists

  1. Comprehension of Word Classification.

This includes knowledge of the role the words play within a sentence e.g. vowel, noun or preposition etc.

14 Sentence and paragraph comprehension.

Extending the understanding of the above. To be able to identify the main point of a paragraph and to understand sequence.

Issues of memory

Memory is important. If you do something repetitively, you remember it. The more you see something the easier it is to remember. With children with learning difficulties need more repetition in smaller bights.

If I ask you to do something on your computer every day. It becomes easy. If then I ask you to something different and a little more   complex and you only must do it once every six months you will find the process tedious and difficult. Why? Because memory requires repetition. As you use your memory in this way, it grows. The speed of that development and the amount of help required and the motivation is different with everyone. Most of the time you need a teacher or a motivator to achieve it.

We need to consolidate and reduce the number of teaching points we have in our activities and repeat what we do and check our success regularly. Revisiting what we have done is important to ensure each student has remembered what has been taught is important.

If you do something for me, you are stealing my opportunity. (Montessori)