By Julie Webb
Many people sound like strong readers because they read accurately and with good expression. Yet when asked to discuss and interpret what they read, these readers aren’t sure where to begin. Their inner thoughts churn, they pause, and panic sets in. They ask themselves, what did I just read? What was the text about? Why can’t I remember?
The difficulties these readers face can go unnoticed because their strengths do a remarkable job of masking their challenges. As a result, some readers aren’t clear as to why we read in the first place. The purpose of reading isn’t to call out words smoothly and efficiently. Instead, reading is a meaning making activity that helps us interpret the world around us. In this way, reading is similar to writing, in which the purpose is to share with others our thoughts, experiences, and interpretations, so that this meaning can spread. In other words, we read to understand, and we write to be understood.
Reading as writers do is different than a surface level understanding of a text, in which a reader does a basic recall of the facts and details. Readers who approach texts with a writer’s eye can see beyond those facts and details to uncover the importance behind the words.
If you’re interested in improving your reading comprehension, ask yourself three questions: What? How? Why?
Step 1: What is the content of the text I’m reading?
Strong readers engage the first layer of understanding by addressing the “what,” or the content, of the text. Not only should you think about the information presented in the text, but also how this information relates to what you already know. Consider how the text’s content connects with your own experiences, with what’s going on in the world, and with other texts you’ve read. Ask yourself:
What does the text say and what does it make me think about?
What does the author want me to know?
It’s also wise to note what’s missing from the text. What information did the author leave out? How would this information influence you as the reader?
Step 2: How did the author craft the text?
Thinking about “how” the text works is another way to consider the author’s craft. Craft refers to the tools and techniques the author employs when creating the piece of writing. Examples of craft include how authors structure their arguments, how they use metaphors in their descriptions, or how they use hyperbole to make a point. To improve your comprehension, notice how the author constructs the text and reflect on the choices they made. Ask yourself:
How is this text put together and how does this impact my understanding?
How did the author communicate their message and was it effective?
Considering the effectiveness of the text’s structure helps readers transition to analyzing and critiquing the reading. This represents thinking beyond the text, and demonstrates advanced reading comprehension.
Step 3: Why did the author write the text?
Asking “why” helps readers think about the deeper meaning behind the language and content. Writers often include layers of meaning and expect readers to infer in order to more deeply connect with and understand the text. Asking “why” helps you tap into the author’s purpose for the piece. Ask yourself:
Why does this text matter?
Why should I care?
Remember, authors are influenced by the time and place in which a text is written. So the context in which a text is created, and also when the text is read, impact how it’s perceived by readers.
In today’s climate of fake news and the overwhelming amount of content found online, our ability to understand what we read is as important as ever. Next time you realize you’ve forgotten the paragraph you just read, try asking yourself: What? How? Why? Initiating these three steps can make a big difference to your reading success.