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Revving up for reading: What is the importance of early comprehension?

Q: Why is early comprehension important?

A: When understanding information content communicated to young children by parents and caregivers, children’s abilities to gain meaning, develop knowledge, skills, and a deeper awareness about their lives increases their motivation for reading and textual comprehension.

Q: What impact do you hope this book has on early childhood literacy?

A: For parents, caregivers, and teachers, I hope our book serves as a frequently sought-out reference for ideas and solutions to meet their children’s unique learning strengths and needs. For researchers, I hope this book provides impetus for furthering their original research to improve the lives and literacies of children and families.

Q: The “word gap” is an extremely hot topic is the education world. Do you think talking to your child more helps improve reading comprehension?

A: Talking with your child in such a way that fosters reciprocal conversations, builds background knowledge, generates questions and answers, inferences, predictions, and interpretations can improve reading comprehension. Listening to your child and responding with sensitivity and awareness to your child’s learning strengths and needs is just as critically important as talking.

Q: Your book has a focus on prereader comprehension, a topic that is often overlooked. Why do you think this is not often researched or discussed?

A: Thorndike (1917) wrote, “It is not a small or unworthy task to learn ‘what the book says.’” Prereader comprehension presents challenges to research study, measurement, and teaching and learning; unlike oral reading fluency, the simplest, most common measure of reading in the elementary grades. What we do not measure, we tend to not teach. Therefore, developing effective and precise measures of prereader comprehension, such as children’s skills in receptive listening, expressive  language and oral vocabulary, among other preliteracy measures, is paramount to learning more about how to support children’s early comprehension.

Q: What roles do parents and teachers play in developing children's comprehension?

A: Parents and teachers historically play pivotal roles in assessing, identifying, and providing daily instructional opportunities across the active, natural learning experiential contexts for children to build early language and textual understandings. The most powerful role is developed when teachers fulfill their role as a collaborative, respectful, and resourceful partner to the children’s parents in creating and achieving long-term goals for increasing comprehension.

Q: What else do we still need to learn about early comprehension?

A: We need to research and develop scientifically-based authentic assessments for measuring early comprehension, and identify instructional interventions that are effective for diverse early learners, especially children with disabilities and children from backgrounds that place them at a learning disadvantage, such as poverty and cultural linguistic diversity.

About the editor

Sabra Gear, Ph.D., is a senior lecturer in the Department of Communication Disorders and Special Education, Old Dominion University. She has taught diverse learners in pre-K–12 general and special education in public school, treatment programs, home-based instruction, and adult basic education.

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