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Ask Susan: Strategies to Improve Inferential Comprehension


I am looking for an online tutor to help with inferential comprehension, which is an area of weakness for my son Adam. He struggles to generate comprehension answers that require him to go beyond presented text in standardized assessments and in-classroom functioning. My question is: What are some tools/strategies you will use to strengthen his inferential comprehension while his working memory is weak?


Hi Charlotte

Thank you for your question.  

Just for the benefit of other readers, I will first explain what inferential comprehension is.

Literal comprehension is a reader’s understanding of the events and information in a text. To test it, you can ask a child questions like “what happened?” or “where did it happen?” Answers to these questions are all available in the text itself.

Inferential comprehension depends on literal comprehension but goes further. It is the ability to process written information and understand the underlying meaning of the text. This information is then used to infer or determine the deeper meaning that is not explicitly stated. It is a higher-order thinking skill that involves linking prior knowledge to new information to make meaning; and requires readers to combine ideas, draw conclusions, as well as interpret and evaluate information.

By age six to seven, children should be sensitive to such characteristics of stories as the main character, sequence of events, inferences, the motives and feelings of characters, and sentence order. As they get older, children should be more efficient at recognizing and recalling facts, recognizing and inferring main themes and relationships, drawing conclusions, making judgments and generalizations, predicting outcomes, applying what has been learned, and following directions. The comprehension goals of the intermediate grades address these abilities as well as those required for independent study: skimming, using reference materials, outlining, summarizing, altering reading rate and focus as the purpose of reading changes, use of headings, note-taking, and so on.

To successfully intervene in any form of learning difficulty, including poor inferential comprehension, there are three fundamental learning principles to keep in mind:    

1.) Learning is a stratified process, which means certain skills need to be mastered before subsequent skills can be learned. Memory, including working memory, and logical reasoning are foundational skills of inferential comprehension. To improve Adam’s memory and his reasoning ability, I recommend Edublox’s program Development Tutor.

Adam will need to do 4-5 sessions per week. Each session consists of three exercises and takes 20-25 minutes to complete. He must always work on a clean desk, except for the logical thinking exercise where he may use any tool (colored blocks, pen, and paper) to get to an answer.

2.) Repetition is vital to successfully learn and master new skills and knowledge. Repetition is important in the “wiring” of a person’s brain, i.e. the forming of connections or synapses between the brain cells. Without repetition, key synapses don’t form. And if such connections, once formed, are used too seldom to be strengthened and reinforced, the brain, figuring they’re dead weight, eventually “prunes” them away.

3.) There must be application of lower-order skills to higher-order skills, which means that Adam will need to do actual comprehension exercises.This part of the intervention is best done through live tutoring. We will be working on higher-order skills, such as the ability to integrate new knowledge with foreknowledge, classification, and closure. Two 30-minute sessions per week would most likely be sufficient, but this will be discussed through a free consultation, which you can book here.



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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. Early in her professional career Susan was instrumental in training over 3,000 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 40 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.