Reading Comprehension Q&A with Educational Leader Amizur Nachshoni
Amizur Nachshoni was born in Israel and lived in the US for many years. With 10 years of experience teaching English and Hebrew, he manages to work with all types of students of all ages, starting from children aged 12, to teenagers and adults, working with them offline and online.
Amizur Nachshoni has been working to improve children’s reading comprehension for quite some time now. Yet, as a new plan to change the nation’s preeminent standardized reading test shows, the idea is somewhat misunderstood.
So I prepared for you a question & answer with top education leader, Amizur Nachshoni.
Q. What goes into reading comprehension?
A. A lot of things. Yet, here are the fundamentals:
Knowledge: Previous knowledge of the subject is an essential element in helping you understand what you’re reading. And if you know a lot about football, for example, you’ll have an easier time to grasp a football game explanation than someone who knows nothing about football.
Vocabulary: In addition to information, vocabulary also grows. If you are reading about a baseball game and see the word “double play, ” it will help if you are familiar with the term already. If you don’t know a lot about baseball and you get a description from others, you may only get more confused. (I know this from experience. )
Familiarity with written language conventions: Written language is almost always more complex than spoken. You can learn a lot about baseball but you can still not understand a scholarly article about it. When children progress through education, we expect that they can comprehend increasingly complex written language. And the books or texts they read presume growing knowledge of contexts and vocabulary. Many children pick up these things outside school, but not many.
Q. You mean people on a subject that they don’t already know anything about can’t read and understand? This sounds completely absurd.
A. It is a question of degree. The more you know about a subject, the easier a text on it will be to understand. Yet people who have acquired a certain amount of general knowledge and a degree of familiarity with writing conventions can and do learn a great deal by reading about new subjects. Getting academic or specific knowledge helps you to acquire more knowledge, allowing you to learn even more … and so on. But you need to acquire a threshold amount of information first.
Q. So, can schools teach reading comprehension?
A. Not explicitly, but they are spending a great deal of time trying. That’s partly because standardized tests tend to assess abstract reading comprehension abilities, such as “finding the main idea, ” and schools want children to perform well on the exams. Yet if students don’t have enough background experience to grasp the test passages — which aren’t connected to what they’ve learned in school — they won’t get a chance to prove their skills.
Many studies also indicate that teaching children such skills will improve comprehension. Yet those experiments lasted for a few weeks, and there is no proof that making children “practice” the skills for years, as they do in school, would make them better learners.
To sum up, the Department of Education proposal tries to take into account the idea that students carry various kinds of knowledge from their homes and communities to school but overlooks the reality that it is schools’ duty to draw on and develop that knowledge — and that their success or failure is what the Department of Education should be measuring.
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