By Laurie Gross
Reading comprehension doesn’t just occur overnight; a multitude of factors contribute to a student becoming an engaged and active reader; one who understands what he/she is reading. Becoming a good reader begins during infancy when a parent talks to his or her child. Strong oral language is the most basic foundational skill needed to become a reader who understands the literal as well as inferential meaning of what is read. Parents who speak to their children, use complex sentence structure and a rich vocabulary are giving them a gift of background knowledge. Background knowledge is critical to comprehension because it helps readers connect new information to something they already know thus making a self-to-text connection. Background knowledge is also built through experiences and exposure to a variety of environments and people. Historically this was done through robust oral language exposure, exposure to children’s literature, field trips and travel. Today, however the internet makes it possible for families to bring the world to their children and open a window of virtual experiences which will help extend and enrich their child’s background knowledge.
As noted in Reading and Language Growth: What It Takes, non-fiction text is an important facet of reading comprehension instruction. Many early readers are primarily exposed to fiction as their primary reading experience, but for all early readers, non-fiction text not only provides and extends background knowledge, it also teaches the reader that there are different kinds of text that need to be read differently. A strong early reading program is built on a rich vocabulary, exposure to information in a variety of ways to build and enhance background knowledge, oral language that is varied and informative and time to practice incorporating all of the above.