My fourth-grader is struggling to understand her textbooks as well as fiction. She has always had this problem, even after tutoring in first and second grades, but it is worse now even though she tries so hard.

I don't know why she never seems to understand what she is reading. How can I help my daughter improve her reading comprehension? -- Puzzled


Our concern is: Does your daughter have the mechanics of reading down pat? Listen to her read and see how well she reads. If she quickly recognizes almost all the words and reads at a satisfactory rate, you should concentrate on improving her comprehension.

Good readers understand what they have read. Reading comprehension, not phonics, is the No. 1 reading skill you want your children to have. If they do not understand what they have read, they are not good readers. This makes sense, doesn't it?

In order for children, as well as adults, to truly understand what they read, they must become active readers. As your daughter reads, she must always be thinking. It is almost like having a conversation with the author. Here are some hints that you can use to improve her reading comprehension:

  • -When your child is reading fiction, the keys to understanding are knowing the characters, the problems they are trying to solve and when and where the story is taking place. Talk with her about these things after she or you have read a short passage. Also, ask her what she expects to happen next. Then continue reading until she can see if her prediction was correct. Do this frequently with her.
  • -When your child is reading nonfiction, she needs to establish a purpose for reading the material before she even begins. You can help by asking her what she expects to learn after reading the first heading of a textbook page, and then ask if this is what she learned after reading the short passage. Once she becomes familiar with asking and answering questions about content, her comprehension will improve. This will take considerable practice.