Just some notes on reading comprehension

Here are some notes and power point slides that I use in my workshops on reading comprehension and children with autism.  I thank Carol Westby, Carol Gray, and Kathleen Quill for their work which has influenced mine in the field.

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model: cognitive apprenticeship It is very important for the teacher to gradually give the student move responsibility for his learning. Scaffolding is critical for students to begin to use the skills that they are being taught independently.

Cognition in Autism (Quill, 2000) This material was organized from a workshop that Kathleen Quill did for the teachers in the school district that I worked, many years ago. Examining weaknesses may help us understanding why the student has so much trouble with reading comprehension. Examining the tendencies gives up clues for remediation.

Cognitive Trait Tendency Weakness
Attention Over-selectivityFocused attention FlexibilityShift Attention
Perception Visuo-spatial Auditory-transient
Information Processing One piece at a timeConcrete




Memory Rote Recall
Social-cognition Concrete Theory of Mind

Consider each of the spokes on this wheel when examining programming for reading comprehenson.

The emphasis on instruction will depend on the skills and abilities of the students.  There is no magic formula or workbook that will “fix” the problem; the “fixing” will be dependent on the curiosity of the teacher to understand the student’s understanding.

Think about text difficulty

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan (1986 Newberry Medal Winner). Make sure to get the student “ready” to learn. Prime background knowledge about what is going to happen. Introduce characters’ names, the setting to help the student connect the reading with his schema about the story.

Read a Summary or the Book jacket and discuss.

“Ever since her mother died, Anna Whitting has been responsible for taking care of her little brother Caleb, her father Jacob, and the chores of running a 19th century household on the prairie. After Jacob puts an advertisement in the newspaper for a new wife, Anna and Caleb anxiously await the arrival of a woman named Sarah who simply describes herself as “plain and tall.

How much background information do we give? Think about the student? What does s/he already know? Don’t introduce everything now. Wait until the background information is needed to prime the students’ schema and attention.

Order of Action To show the order or sequence of ideas, keep a running record of important events to lead to the next part of the story:

Simple story frame

Teach transition words This story is about

Comprehension Social Stories about Caleb’s feelings See Carol Gray’s information about writing social stories.  Here is one I wrote for Sarah Plain and Tall.

“I am reading Sarah, Plain and Tall. It is a story about a family who lives on a prairie. Caleb is the little boy in the story. His mother died when he was born. Caleb misses his mother. I can tell this because Caleb keeps asking his sister Anna to tell him about his mother. When I think about Caleb missing his mother, I can think about missing my brother who is at college. I am sad when my brother leaves for college. This helps me to know how Caleb feels in the story.

When Sarah writes a letter to the family, Caleb reads the letter “so many times that the ink begins to run and the folds tear.” Caleb is not trying to ruin the letter…he is very interested in the letter, so he reads it over and over. Sometimes I get very excited about something and I talk about it over and over. This is what Caleb is doing in the story. This tells me that Caleb is very interested in Sarah and he is hoping she will come to live with the family and be his mother.

When my classmates read Sarah, Plain and Tall, they look for clues that help them understand how Caleb feels and what he wants. This is a good idea. Sometimes they find the clues and sometimes they can’t find the clues. The teacher can help them understand about Caleb. Sometimes I miss the clues too. This is ok. The teacher and my classmates can help me understand about Caleb and the other characters.”


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