If your child has mastered foundational listening and spoken language skills and is good at early reading comprehension, it’s time to take the task away from parent/teacher/therapist-read stories and to give the child tools for independent reading and comprehension of more complex written information.
Before I get to the meat of this post, I cannot reiterate enough how important it is to have a strong foundation in basic skills. Regardless of chronological age, or the grade-level appropriateness of this kind of task, if the child does not have the vocabulary, memory, decoding, and other skills that form the basis of reading comprehension, you are going to run into a lot of frustration trying to teach more advanced skills. Throw out the numbers, swallow your pride, forget any hang-ups about what the child “should” be doing, and give him the gift of solid skills, not fluffed-up abilities that fall flat when it counts. Ouch. It’s tough. But sometimes necessary.
Okay. Ready for the tips?
It’s all about attack skills. A page full of text can be intimidating until you know how to break it down. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Some attack skills include:
Prediction. Look at the title and any illustrations. What do you expect to read in this story? What do you know about the subject?
Circle It. Do you see any words or phrases that you don’t understand? Circle them and look them up or ask someone.
Break It Down. If you see a new word or phrase, break it up into parts. Can you figure out pieces to guess what it means?
Main Idea. Highlight the main idea of each paragraph. Write it in your own words.
Summarize. Re-write what you’ve read in your own words.
Create Questions. Think of what kinds of questions a teacher could ask about this, and figure out the answers.
These skills require modeling and lots of practice. Once a child feels comfortable using these skills, she can determine which are most effective for her. The student will have a tool chest of attack skills on which she can rely in challenging situations.
For older children reading textbooks, one of my favorite techniques is the highlight/Post-It method. Go through each page, highlighting the most important information. Then, put a Post-It at the top of the page with bullet points of the “must-know” information. When studying or reviewing information, you can use the highlighted actual text if you have more time or breeze through the Post-Its if you’re in a pinch. Post-Its can also be removed and used as flashcards for studying.
Inferencing is another higher-level reading comprehension skills that is increasingly important for older readers. Inferencing requires using information that is read and combining it with knowledge of the world, emotional knowledge, and theory of mind to come to a conclusion that is not explicitly stated. On a very early level, an inferencing question could sound like, “Devon was getting ready for school. He looked out the window, and then went back to the closet to get an umbrella. What do you think Devon saw?” and go all the way up to discussions of characters’ motives or the societal trends underlying events in history. The way to get from simple inferencing to more complex inferencing is to practice, practice, practice. When adults “think aloud” and model the thought process that leads to inferencing, children have a framework of how to do this by themselves.
When we take the time to teach students these techniques — through modeling, guided trials, and lots and lots of practice, we give them the skill set they need to tackle complex assignments.
It is my philosophy that classroom accommodations and curriculum modifications should be used sparingly, only when they are absolutely necessary. If solid foundational skills and the techniques above are still not enough to help your student with hearing loss improve his/her reading comprehension skills to a level that makes the curriculum accessible, the following modifications may be considered:
Ask for a second set of textbooks to keep at home for extra review and reading with a parent or tutor.
Ask for assignments in advance, so that the student can pre-read and make notes.
Consider the possible presence of additional learning disabilities. Just because a child has a hearing loss does not mean that he can’t have other issues, like learning disabilities. A comprehensive assessment with an educational psychologist can yield valuable information on ways to serve twice-exceptional students.