Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dyslexic children and reading comprehension

Two weeks ago a friend rang me and asked me to see a 19 years old student whom he thought was dyslexic. I explained to him that I have not taught any child beyond year 6 (13 years old). He pleaded with me and I finally relented saying that I’ll just help to find out if the child is dyslexic.
The father and I met and he explained about his son. He started by saying that his son’s memory is bad. He said that his son could hardly repeat a short story after reading it. He had sent his son to various tuition centres / teachers over the years and yet he has hardly improved.

The following day the student came to my house and I asked him to read a simple story in Romanized Mandarin. He read it fluently. I then asked him to read a simple story book in English and he read it fluently as well. This was enough for me to decide that he was not dyslexic.

I then asked him to repeat the one page he had read and he was unable to tell me the story in his own words. I then took a book that I use with my primary one students – The proud swan. He read the whole book with ease. Let me remind you that I am talking about a 19 year old teenager. When I asked him to tell me the story, I found that he could hardly tell it to me.

Questions that came to my mind immediately were: Could the father be right in saying that his son has a bad memory? He did not have a problem in communicating and why then can’t he comprehend what he has read?

I then decided to ask him the meanings of a few of the key words and was surprised to realize that he did not know the meanings of many of the words. He read them correctly but did not understand their meanings. The key words that he did not understand the meaning of are:
Swan, Proud, Looks down on, Teases, Hunter, Surface, Trick, Dives, Ugly, Lifts, Neck, Strange
Raft and Floats.

It was obvious that his problem was not one of memory but one of language. He simply did not have the vocabulary to understand the story. I confirmed this by asking him to read a simple story book in Romanized Mandarin and asking him to tell me the story in his own words in Mandarin.

My heading for this article is dyslexic children and reading comprehension and yet I have said that this boy is not dyslexic. I will come to that in my next few articles. Meanwhile do think of what I have written above. A father has believed “experts” who had simply told him that his son has a memory problem and that is why he cannot repeat a story he has read.

What is very clear from the above is that dyslexic or not; if a child does not have the vocabulary he will not be able to comprehend what he is reading.

WARNING: Do not believe so called ‘experts’, even those with a PhD who say that ‘One of the problems of a dyslexic is reading comprehension’. This is far from the truth and we will explore this in the next few articles.


Sarah Cox said...

You have me intrigued! I can't wait to read the rest of the articles! You hear very often that reading comprehension is a problem for people with dyslexia. I think a big part of it is because they struggle so much with the reading and have to concentrate so much on actually decoding the words that they don't pay as much attention to what it is they are actually reading.
That seems to be the case with my son. Because when I read the story to him he does much better with answering comprehension questions than when he reads it himself.
Interested to see if my theory is the same as yours...

Luqman Michel said...

Hi Sarah,
Thank you for your comment. I look forward to comments and questions from my readers.
I have started writing only short articles as a reader suggested that if my article is too long the readers will get bored half way through.

Yes, I read very often that reading comprehension is a problem for people with dyslexia. From my teaching experience I find that statement to be false.When I first start teaching, almost all my students seem to have a reading comprehension problem but when I read to them they understand the whole story and can answer most if not all the comprehension questions at the back of the book without having to look at the passage. Believe me, when I say that most of the time all it takes is one reading by me. I have written an article on this on March 9, 2010. Please refer to that article. I continue reading about reading comprehension and therefore decided to write again on this topic.

As can be seen in my March 9th article, I completely agree with your findings.However, it is not limited to reading hesitatingly. If I were to read Einstein's theory of relativity even for the next one month I'll probably not understand even 10 % of what he has written and definitely it will not be because of reading fluency.

Reading comprehension can be affected by language difficulties or word identification difficulties (which cause hesitant reading).

If a student does not understand material read to him or if he reads fluently and yet does not understand what he has read then he may have a difficulty in understanding language.

The most common type of reading difficulty, however, is the difficulty with word recognition. Because he does not recognise the word instantaneously he has to sound it out and therefore reads hesitatingly and concentrates most of his effort on reading that he cannot quite comprehend what he has read.

Let me try and give an analogy - If I cannot play ice hockey it could be because I cannot skate and not because I cannot learn to play ice hockey. If you can think of a better analogy please let me know so I may include in my next article on comprehension with your permission of course.
Wish you well.

Luqman Michel said...

Allow me to add a little more.You wrote :"That seems to be the case with my son. Because when I read the story to him he does much better with answering comprehension questions than when he reads it himself."

I would therefore like to say that your son's comprehension problem is because of his hesitant reading and not really a comprehension problem because he is dyslexic. Does this make sense?

This could happen to any child before he becomes a fluent reader.A dyslexic child or a non dyslexic child will have reading comprehension problem before they become fluent readers. I hope I do make sense.

Sarah Cox said...

Yes, that does make sense. I agree that my son's comprehension problems are because he is a hesitant reader. But my point is that he is a hesitant reader because he has dyslexia.

I am actually a speech and language pathologist. So, I understand and agree with you when you say "if a child does not have the vocabulary he will not be able to comprehend what he is reading"

looking forward to reading part 2. I am going to go read it right now.

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you Sarah. I'll think of what else I can write on this topic.

Lesley said...

Just discovered your site really interesting info.

Sounds like a receptive language disorder in the case of this young man.
My son is dyslexic and reads and comprehends above his age, he was heavily remediated with his reading and there seemed to be a point which he passed in which a critical reading speed was passed where the comprehension picked up. His oral reading still remains inaccurate and not fully fluent but he obviously copes well.

However we were questioned by a head of Year teacher whether he actually had dyslexia as he reads and understands above his age. The teacher totally ignored that fact that his writing skills (motor skills and organisation skills) are well below age.