Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
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Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers

Joanna Williams

Dr. Joanna Williams is professor of psychology and education at the Teachers College of Columbia University.

Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers
Reading for Meaning
Meet the Experts
Roots of Reading Roots of Reading
Sounds and Symbols Sounds and Symbols
Fluent Reading Fluent Reading
Writing and Spelling Writing and Spelling
Reading for Meaning Reading for Meaning
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Becoming Bilingual
Reading and the Brain
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Toddling Toward Reading Toddling Toward Reading

An Interview With Joanna Williams

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The last stumbling block...
Some children are — seem to be — fine in the first, second grades. They can sound out words, they can read sentences, and they can do most of the things that teachers ask of them. One problem is they don't seem to comprehend very well.

Now, this doesn't make sometimes for a huge problem until maybe the second or third grade and certainly by the fourth grade, when we expect every child to have learned to read and we expect them to now get material from a printed page. And now they are not just learning to read, they are reading to learn. Some of these children who have been so good at the learning-to-read phase don't comprehend, and it comes to be clear in the third or fourth grade.
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Learning to organize text...
One of the things that a child has to do when he's learning how to comprehend text is to really learn how to organize it himself and put it into a good, let's call it a framework or a schema, in his head. Sometimes this is easy. I mean, babies do it on a very, very primitive level, not with text, of course. Sometimes it's a little difficult and for some children who are a little slow, maybe a child with a learning disability or maybe a very young child who has no disability, he just needs more experience, has a hard time doing it.

The instruction that we give and that other people who are doing comprehension instruction also give, is on this organization aspect of it. How to organize a story and, in some sense, comprehension is all very internal. It's very hard to know what actually you're doing or what the child is doing. But it does happen after some experience with schemes like the Theme Scheme and well-chosen material and good questions from the teacher. The children do improve their ability to comprehend.
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Comprehension is complex...
Comprehension is extremely complex. I guess the thing we first think of when we think of comprehension, well, comprehension is meaning. We think of vocabulary. And we think of teaching children the meanings of individual words. That has always been acknowledged as one of the basic things in comprehension. But then we have to understand grammar and syntax and we really have to understand discourse, that is, discourse or text, compositions longer than a single paragraph. There are many levels to comprehension.
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