Levels of Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is a key academic skill. To comprehend a reading text means to understand what the author was trying to communicate and to share the author’s intentions along with, if possible, your own perspective on the text. Doing this is not easy at all.

In general, there are three levels of reading comprehension and they are.

  1. Decoding
  2. Critical literacy
  3. Dynamic literacy

This post will discuss each of these three levels of reading comprehension.

Decoding

Decoding is the most basic level of reading comprehension. At this level, a person breaking down words into there component syllables and “sounding them out.” He or she blends the words together and reads the text. This is the experience of many people who are learning to read. The focus is on learning to read and not reading to learn.

There is a minimal amount of reading comprehension at this level. The reader can recall what they read based on memory but there is often an inability to think and comprehend at a deeper level beyond memory.

For teaching, teaching decoding normal happens either with ESL students or with native speakers in early the early primary grades. This can be taught using a phonics based approach, whole reading approach or some other method.

Critical Literacy

Critical literacy assumes that decoding has already happen. At this level, the reader is actively trying to develop a deeper understanding of the text. This happens through analyzing, comparing, contrasting, synthesizing, and or evaluating. The reader is engaged in a dialog with the text in trying to understand it.

Developing critical literacy in students requires employing teaching and learning strategies from the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Leading discussions that require higher level thinking and or writing assignments are some ways to accomplish this.

It is important to remember that readers should have already mastered decoding before attempting critical literacy. It is easy to cause cognitive overload by trying to have a reader decode text while trying to discuss the deeper meaning of the content. As such, critical literacy strategies should be avoid until upper primary school.

Dynamic Literacy

Dynamic literacy assumes mastery of decoding and some mastery of critical literacy. Dynamic literacy goes beyond analysis to relating the content of the text to other knowledge. If critical literacy is focused only on the text, dynamic literacy is focused on how the current text of the reading relates to other books.

For example, a reader who is reading a book about language acquisition may look for connections between acquisition of a language and grammar. Or they may be more creative and look for connections between language acquisition and music. This inter-disciplinary focus is unique to what is currently considered the highest level of reading comprehension.

A more practical approach to doing this would be to compare what several authors say about the same subject. Again, the focus is on going beyond just one book or one subject to going across different books and or viewpoints. In general, dynamic literacy is probably not possible before high school or even college.

Conclusion

Many people never move beyond decoding. They are content with reading a text and knowing what happen but never thinking deeper beyond that. However, for some, higher levels of reading comprehension is not a goal. For many, reading the newspaper in English is all they want to do and they have no desire for a more complex reading experience.  The challenge for a teacher is to move readers from one level to the next while keeping in mind the goals of the students

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One thought on “Levels of Reading Comprehension

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