Northwest NEWS

September 16, 2002


Reading and Understanding

by Karen Lytle Blaha
   How do you know when young children are not just reading isolated words, but really understanding what they're reading? Here are some clues from Akimi Gibson and Judith Gold, authors of the article "Tutoring Our Youngest Readers."
   They note that "proficient readers know when they understand what they read and when they do not, and are able to adjust their reading accordingly. A young child may say, "I don't understand what this means." This shows that she is thinking about her reading."
   "Learning to read strategically is a developmental process and happens over time," they report. Children show that they understand what they are reading, say Gibson and Gold, when they:
   Use prior knowledge and personal experience when discussing a book. Example: "I just knew she was going to fall - that's what happened to me and my friends when we were learning how to skateboard."
   Describe similarities and differences among books. Example: Most kids' books have happy endings. Mystery books always try to trick you.
   Visualize and describe scenes and characters in books with few illustrations.
   Support their ideas or interpretations by giving examples from the text.
   Identify the main ideas in a story or nonfiction book.
   Describe characters' moods and motives.
   "Tutoring Our Youngest Readers" is the focus of an issue of The Tutor, published by LEARNS, a partnership of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory and the Bank Street College of Education. The booklet keys on five reading strategies: phonemic awareness; phonics; fluency; vocabulary; and text comprehension. The booklet is geared to helping tutors, parents, and others understand each skill. The Tutor is on the Web at; for print copies, while available, call 1-800-361-7890.
   This column by Karen Lytle Blaha is provided by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.
   , a nonprofit institution working with schools and communities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.