Reading and comprehension

My English teacher at primary school taught me that reading does not automatically lead to comprehension.

I have forgotten the title of the book we were reading.  What I remember is that the story was about conflict.

The opening chapter referred to ‘dark clouds in the sky’.  Our teacher asked our class what that phrase could mean.  I immediately raised my hand and blurted out.  ‘Something terrible is going to happen’.   The girl sitting next to me was doodling on a piece of paper.  Our teacher told her to pay attention and answer the question.  She answered, ‘I think it’s going to rain’.  My classmates and I started laughing.  Our teacher told her not to be insolent and disruptive. From that day onwards, I noticed that the girl I sat next to in class had ‘switched off’ during English literature classes.

Instead of sanctioning her, our teacher could have asked her what else ‘dark clouds in the sky’ might mean. He could have asked her whether she was drawing a picture related to her interpretation of the story. He could have asked the rest of the class why I had assumed that dark means something terrible is about to happen?

My takeaway from that day? There is a difference between reading and comprehension.  Even though everyone in our English Literature class was reading the same book, our interpretations were not identical.

Reading and comprehension are essential tools for understanding the world we live in.  Our verbal interactions with children about the books they are reading during their formative years and encouraging questions about interpretations of stories can help children cultivate the skill of critical thinking and the art of better communication.