Ask Susan: My Son’s Reading Comprehension Is Poor

Dear Susan

My name is Mia and my husband (Thomas) and I have a 10-year-old son (just turned 10), whose comprehension tests results are poor. This does not match his other abilities, e.g. reading, writing and maths. He is a bright boy. After having read your website, we wonder if you could please help us. We have tried many things: private tutors, tutoring programs and seeking advice from teachers. The teachers can’t seem to explain the discrepancy between his writing – which is great – and reading comprehension. He tends to rush through texts as he does not like reading, even though he reads fluently. His favourite series is Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which he reads well and seems to comprehend easily, however he does not seem to want to read more complex books e.g. Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. This might be related to content, but he does struggle with more complex sentences. He has never been an avid reader.

I found your details on the website after we googled “poor comprehension”. Could you please help us to help him reach his full potential? His teachers are not concerned as they say he is “not the bottom of the pack”, but the fact that his reading comprehension is coming back below average does concern us greatly.

Would the Reading Tutor online program help? After reading your website, we wondered if he might have an auditory processing issue, but we really don’t know.

We would really appreciate it if you could write back to tell us about the Reading Tutor program and if you have had any experience with kids such as our son.

We live in Melbourne Australia.

Thanks,

Mia


Dear Mia

Thank you for your email.

Step one is to ensure that your son’s word recognition is on par. Word recognition is the act of seeing a word and recognising its pronunciation immediately and without any conscious effort. If reading words requires conscious, effortful decoding, little attention is left for comprehension of a text to occur.

If word recognition is on par, there are generally three reasons why good readers struggle with comprehension: (1.) vocabulary, (2.) memory and (3.) reasoning skills. Since your son’s writing is great, one could possibly rule out vocabulary problems. That leaves memory and reasoning skills.

I advise you to do our online assessment. The assessment is not comprehensive, but will give you a good idea of the strength of your son’s cognitive skills, specifically visual sequential and auditory memory, as well as his reasoning skills. It must be noted that there are several types of memory involved in reading comprehension, and if one type is good it does not mean that all other types are. The second part of the online assessment is a reading test, one that is a good measure of word recognition. You will need to assist your son with the assessment, such as to click the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ button when he does the reading assessment.

Kindly do the assessment and let me know the results. If his word recognition is on par you will need Development Tutor plus one or two extra exercises, which I will provide free of charge.

Also read the article “When Children Read Well, Yet Lack Comprehension.”

Regards,

Susan


Dear Susan,

I am so grateful that you have taken the time to write with so much information and clarity. Thank you so much. We are so, so grateful!!

My husband and I have tried so many avenues to find out what the root cause of our son’s poor comprehension test results might be, to no avail. No one is able to give us any answers and we are deeply appreciative and so relieved that we can get an assessment which might help.

We will definitely do the online assessment and let you know the results. However, just to clarify a few things:

1.) In terms of word recognition, Noah – DOB 2/11/2008 – seems to be able to read fluently when it comes to basic sight words, but he pauses when it comes to multisyllabic words sometimes. An example would be the word “exhibition”, which he paused and didn’t say immediately. Sometimes he is slower to pronounce multisyllabic names as well, although he is good at recognizing common sight words. (I read together with him at night out loud to ensure he is pronouncing words correctly.)

We have never been told by his teachers that decoding is an issue, although I was a bit surprised he didn’t say “exhibition” immediately. That is just one example; generally he is fluent. It has taken a while though to try and get him to read expressively – which is a work in progress.

2.) In terms of vocabulary, for a boy who just turned 10 recently, we think there might be ‘gaps’ in his vocabulary, as he asked what ‘deeds’ and ‘salary’ meant the other day. Also, the other day we were told he didn’t know exactly what an ostrich was but then seemed to understand when prompted. Our tutor mentioned we should enrich his experiences by taking him out more e.g. to the zoo or the museum etc. We are uncertain as to whether this is completely within the natural spectrum for a 10-year-old though. But our gut feeling is that there may be gaps in his vocabulary because he has never been an avid reader. For him reading is more a disinterested chore. He is encouraged to read daily but won’t go beyond the 15 minutes or so that we encourage, unless it is something that he loves e.g. Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

You mentioned that it was unlikely that his vocabulary would be a problem because of his writing skills, which are good; however, I need to clarify that the content of his writing is not sophisticated — by that I mean with rich metaphors or imagery etc – it is often direct and plain. His penmanship is excellent. His grammar and structure is good, but his words are not sophisticated.

3.) As for his memory, broadly speaking, we have not noticed any specific issues – he is able to recall stories told to him and recent past events. It is interesting and informative to us that there are specific types of memory associated with reading. We were wondering about auditory memory and whether that might be an issue, so it will be good to do the test to assess this.

Once again, we thank you sincerely and appreciate your prompt feedback. It is very, very kind of you to reply so quickly. Thank you!!!!

We will email as soon as he has done the assessment.

Warmest regards,

Mia


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More about Susan

Susan is an educational specialist in the field of learning problems and dyslexia and has a B.A. Honors in Psychology and B.D. degree from the University of Pretoria. Early in her professional career Susan was instrumental in training over 3000 teachers and tutors, providing them with the foundational and practical understanding to facilitate cognitive development amongst children who struggle to read and write. With over 25 years of research to her name Susan conceptualized the Edublox teaching and learning methods that have helped thousands of children who were struggling academically to read, learn and achieve. In 2007, Susan opened the first Edublox reading and learning clinic and now there are 25 Edublox clinics internationally. Her proudest moments are when she sees a child who had severe learning difficulties come top of their class after one or two years at Edublox. Susan always takes time to collect the ‘hero’ stories of learners whose self-esteem is lifted as their marks improve.