Building an Understanding!

As I listen to readers transitioning from the Early stage of reading to the Transitional stage, I see them struggling most with understanding the content of what they are reading. They have built up a solid foundation of High-Frequency words that are automatic to them and can solve most words phonetically. They can solve some when applying meaning, but this is where their skills of transferring knowledge start to break down. They strive to understand the vocabulary and or plow through it without much thought to it. Their primary focus might be to read the text and be able to say I’m finished. Or they might be reading to complete a specific task related to different areas or levels of comprehension of the text. The students often lack the ability to mediate an understanding of what they are reading into broader insights and ideas. We often forget how comprehending a text works at the cognitive processing level and focus instead on evaluating the skills listed in our curriculums and tested on district and state tests. Knowledge is grown over time. It accumulates like snowflakes on the ground.

Readers have to make connections, accessing all parts of their lives as readers. Do not ask them to build walls as a reader and compartmentalize. Ask them to use their imagination and what they know and understand in all areas of their life as they read. Then, ask them to focus on understanding the ideas the writer’s words conjure up and apply it with what they know of the world within the situation described on the page. Simple right!

I think we need to apply a lot of what we have learned about teaching math over the last decade to reading. We teach number sense and teach students to use the skills we give them across many different types of equations. We are asking them to be fluid with their thinking and how they apply strategies. We are teaching them to problem-solve. When it comes to reading, we often do not ask them to be problem solvers but stick to rigid scripts that some have been taught to say “good readers” follow. I despise those two words, “good readers.” The implications they create are far more negative than positive for striving readers at all stages of reading.

We have to be problem solvers, connectors, and builders of knowledge. We often have to ask readers to restructure their understandings of life sometimes. Some readers resist this notion and hold rigidly to false misconceptions they have built through the environment they are living in. We have to ask students to break down what they are reading to the word, phrase, and paragraph levels. We have to ask readers to read a text closely. As Cummins (2013) describes, close reading occurs when the reader analyses any given text at the word or phrase level and the paragraph and section levels. She describes how a reader determines which details are most important and how they fit together logically to convey the author’s central ideas. A reader’s understanding of life as they have experienced it and perceive it, play a huge role in this. We have to do more of this type of work with students using Informational and fiction texts. We have to show readers how to put the pieces of information they read and understand together to build new knowledge.

Much like the pieces of a puzzle hold specific details that are important to connect to the surrounding pieces, so do words build on ideas at a sentence, paragraph, and chapter/section level. Then all of it connects, building up to a final picture or ideas.


Cummins, S. (2013). Close reading of informational texts: Assessment-driven instruction in grades 3-8. Guilford.

Author: Troy F

Reading Specialist & NBCT in Literacy. Academic Coach for online Graduate classes.

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