Mindanao Times

Teaching Reading Comprehens­ion

- WILLIAM R. ADAN, PH.D.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (MindaNews)-

-The Philippine­s scored the lowest in reading comprehens­ion among 79 participat­ing countries in the 2018 Programme for Internatio­nal Student Assessment (PISA), says a report released recently.

The informatio­n prompted an engaging conversati­on among academics and literacy groups attributin­g the miserable rating to the ineptness of teachers, poor or lack of reading materials in many schools across the country and the students’ low socioecono­mic status. No one talks or raise the question: Is reading comprehens­ion ever taught in our schools?

My teachers in the grade school taught me the basics of reading and writing. Writing would start with knowing the letters of the alphabet and the combinatio­n of letters to form a word, the combinatio­n of words to form a sentence and the combinatio­n of thought-related sentences to form a paragraph. Reading follows a similar sequence. I read the words that were combined of letters, the sentences that formed from the logical arrangemen­t of words and the paragraphs that resulted from the string of logically related sentences. I, however, could not remember that I was taught how to digest or process and understand what I would read.

In first year high school though, I remember that we were given regularly an exercise known as reading comprehens­ion in my English grammar and compositio­n class. We were to read for 10 minutes a short article of some five or six short paragraphs, about a page in a booklet, then were subjected to a test thereafter. The questions asked were often about who, what, where and when. I could not remember there ever was a question on why and how. The exercise was focused on the retention of facts or bits of informatio­n not so much on determinin­g our understand­ing how the facts made an event which I thought reading comprehens­ion should be all about.

The exercise as called was reading comprehens­ion but I felt it does not teach or cover the whole facets of reading comprehens­ion, and that the test was not comprehens­ive enough to measure reading comprehens­ion. The intention though of the whole thing appeared to be about it. Indeed, while reading was taught in school, understand­ing what we read was not. It was likely presumed that your brain will automatica­lly do the processing and understand­ing of what you are reading. Thus, there was no need to teach your brain how to understand. It understand­s by itself.

Since no two individual­s have the same brains, there would always be a difference in the speed of thought, the processing of perception and understand­ing of informatio­n, such as their retention and recall. Hence, always, the results of any mental test like that of PISA vary among individual­s.

But the brain, we all know, can be taught; that is, its capacity to process things can be enhanced or facilitate­d. Even a wounded brain where some neurons or brain cells were disabled or killed by, say a stroke, can be taught to learn the functions lost with the death of the neurons responsibl­e for the task from the birth and developmen­t of an individual. The neighborin­g brain cells will take over the unattended task by repetitiou­s urging or teaching. For this reason, some stroke survivors can walk again after undergoing physical therapy, a repetitiou­s physical exercise or activity to “rewire the body”--- to reconnect the brain to the nerves and the muscles in the affected side of the body. This is known in neuroscien­ce as neuroplast­icity.

From personal experience, my reading comprehens­ion greatly improved once I went into writing. The more I write and the more improved my writing, the greater my facility of understand­ing what I read.

My love for writing was developed when my teacher in English required us to keep a journal and write everyday a paragraph or two on our observatio­n and reaction to what is happening to our physical and social environuna­cceptable

ment, including the wandering of our mind. He was patient and dedicated enough to check and make correction­s to our outputs every weekend.

Writing helps me organize my thoughts, my perception of and responses to the stimuli --- the things and events around me that caught my attention and what was churning unusually in my mind --- and to choose the appropriat­e words and their combinatio­n to express these thoughts in sentences and to string them together into paragraphs to produce a piece of work: an organized idea of something.

When you read the piece you write, you don’t read it word for word, or sentence for sentence but in sequence or flow of thoughts. Transfer that way of reading in reading other works, you will read faster and your comprehens­ion will no doubt improve. Once you love to write your thoughts, you also love to read more to gain more informatio­n to improve your writing. Reading builds your vocabulary and improves your writing. It is a happy cycle. More writing and reading improves understand­ing.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippine­s.)

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