Reading comprehension is one of the most complex academic skills. Skilled readers construct meaning by synchronizing a bottom-up approach to reading (decoding words fluently and accurately) with a top-down approach (using prior knowledge and experience during reading).
Reading comprehension involves a variety of neurodevelopmental functions, including attention, memory, language, and higher order cognition. In this post, we’re going to focus on the role of memory.
While reading, we must hold important information and concepts in our minds. We must process words, sentences and paragraphs together in order to gain full meaning of what we’re reading. In addition, we must call up relevant information we already know. Memory is essential in helping us comprehend as we read, make associations between prior knowledge and new information, and remember that same information at a later time, such as during a test.
Here are some possible signs that a student is succeeding with the memory demands of reading:
The student …
- Is able to pick out main ideas
- Paraphrases/summarizes well
- Holds onto the beginning of a story while reading the end
- Keeps in mind the plot of a story while working on a single part of a paragraph
- Easily learns new vocabulary words and definitions
Here are some possible signs that a student is struggling with the memory demands of reading:
The student …
- Feels overwhelmed by the number of ideas presented
- Retains only fragments of what was read
- Can restate the gist of ideas, concepts, or directions, but not the details
- Loses the meaning of a passage when looking up the definition of an unknown word
Strategies to help students struggling in this area:
- Have students read in pairs, alternating between passages and then switching parts to re-read the text.
- Have students take quick notes that describe the main idea of what they are reading. For example, have students stop to summarize what they’ve read after each paragraph. This approach will help ensure that students are recording important information in their minds.
- Stress self-monitoring of comprehension while reading, by encouraging students to ask themselves: “Is this passage about what I thought it was going to be about?” “Have I linked what I just read to the parts I read earlier?,” etc.
- Teach students how to create useful notes that reinforce understanding and help to trigger information recall at a later time. For example, teach students how to create concept maps based on their reading, as one technique for consolidating and organizing what they’ve read. Have students save their maps, and use them as study tools for upcoming tests.
We’d love to hear what strategies you’ve used to help students struggling with the memory demands of reading. Leave a comment below with your ideas!
- More information and strategies about the role of memory in reading comprehension (See “Tips to Help” links for more strategies!)
- General information about the neurodevelopmental demands of reading
- Research on active working memory and reading
- Reading resources on the web