Students take in every letter, word, sentence, and punctuation mark that they read in order to comprehend an author’s intended meaning. Good readers also make use of their own personal experience and existing knowledge as they read. They move information out of short-term memory and into active working memory, where they can think about it in relation to personal experience and existing knowledge.
The ability to hold information together in one’s mind, e.g., to relate new and old information, or to link the end of a story with information from the beginning, is essential to effective comprehension. Active memory plays a key role in this process.
Here are some strategies for enhancing students’ reading comprehension by focusing on active working memory.
- Confirm that students’ skills in word decoding (reading words rapidly and accurately) are at, or near grade level. Provide opportunities for students to make decoding skills “automatic.” This will enable them to focus on the meaning of the text as they read, rather than focusing on decoding the words.
- Ensure that students are familiar with the important concepts and information contained in the text before they start reading.
- Introduce new text by looking at pictures, questions, names, and dates, and ask students to construct an initial idea of what the text is about.
- Teach students paraphrasing and summarizing techniques to use while reading, e.g., stopping to restate the main idea or key points after each paragraph.
- Encourage students to jot down important points, unknown vocabulary words, etc. as they read (e.g., using post-it notes to mark the location of information).
- Have students answer questions about the text as they read.
- Encourage students to highlight or underline as they read, and to re-read information that they have underlined.
- 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 to use tools to keep track of what they’ve read. For example, have them fill in outlines, complete tables, and create semantic maps to organize and consolidate ideas as they read.