Comprehending Comprehension (Pause till 2108?)
Do we understand the challenges our children are facing in school? How can you learn anything if you don’t understand? How do you learn without reading well? What do we know about reading? About comprehension? Do we just read headlines, and say, “these poor children”? or do we engage? Are we cognisant of the issue?
Definition of comprehension: (n.) the ability to understand. How do you measure the ability of a person’s reading skill level? Are there different types of reading? Different purposes of reading? Are there norms when it comes to what we can expect a typical Gr.4 student or even you as an adult to be able to read?
You have probably never thought of questions like these, but chances are you’ve heard of the PIRLS evaluation and that our South African children performed the worst in the world in this 2016 reading evaluation. And then there is the latest report from the 2030 Reading Panel that indicates 82% of our nation’s Gr.4 children can’t read for meaning or, in other words, with comprehension post the COVID pandemic. The real question is how do we remedy something we don’t understand? If you know there is a problem, but you don’t understand it, chances are you will not be capable of doing something about it, right? So, let’s take a step back and answer some of the questions asked above:
- There are different ways to measure a person’s relative reading skill level, but first, we need to establish what we are measuring. Oral reading, which is considered a form of social reading or entertainment, is not a skill used to master information efficiently in most cases. Silent fluency reading, on the other hand, is used for learning, processing information, getting work done, or being productive (we all read silently at libraries or work…I hope!). Once you have determined which way of reading we will evaluate, there are a few more factors to consider. Is the language level correct in the content? What are the persons reading speed? What is their comprehension? And then, we can break it down a little more to the span of recognition and duration of fixation (in other words, how much the eye sees in a single eye stop and how long the eye takes to see). For more background on this, go to eyebraingym’s Visual Processing Factor, Cognitive Development Factor, and Action Interpret & understand Factor here, or do the free placement on eyebraingym to find out what your relative reading efficiency skill level is.
- Norms have been established and re-affirmed. For example, we can expect a grade 4 student in October of their schooling year would be able to read 158 words per minute with a comprehension of 70%. For an adult who needs to read a lot of emails, or process large amounts of information, we can expect 250-280 words per minute. This makes you curious to find out what your words per minute are, right? For each Grade-level, there is an international norm, which is used as the baseline for assessment.
We found the statement in the 2030 Reading Panel’s paper interesting – that there need to be more efficient norms or measurements that can be used to get a clearer understanding of what the situation is on the ground, or in under words, to COMPREHEND the situation in our schools. It has already been developed, implemented successfully and proven efficient in evaluating over 160,000 individuals from Grade 1 to adults.
Let’s be clear; poor reading skill does not magically fix themselves. If you struggle and dislike the exercise, you will probably keep seeing reading as a challenge. And “let the child read” will not remedy the situation either. It will make them dislike the exercise that much more. But if you receive accurate and efficient training, guidance and exercises on your level, it can be a different story. It is simple; your brain, very much the same as your physical body, responds to stimulation, training, and exercise. You just need the right training program and commitment to achieve those results. And let’s not forget, reading is the basis of learning; in an age where data is king and information is continually evolving. If you come up short on accessing, reading, and understanding the information, the future looks bleak for you.
So, our answer to the reading panel is, “yes, we agree with your conclusion.” Suppose you want a clearer picture of our future leaders’ capacity to work with information. In that case, you need to consider more efficient measuring methods and processes that remove the “human element” and margin for error that comes with manual evaluations. Teachers are overworked, and most will say they don’t have time to complete the basics, much less facilitate another tedious evaluation, not to mention the time and processing constraints to get all that data captured and then place a stamp of “verified and trustworthy data” on the findings. Yes, we need to embrace technology in cases like these. We are in the 4th industrial revolution, are we not? A solution that is scalable and individualised but also able to access real-time data at district, provincial, and national levels is what we need.
To accept the “possibility” that we will only be “on an acceptable standard by the year 2108 is unacceptable to us.
“Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.” This statement is usually attributed to Albert Einstein, and a guide in this matter, if you will. We need technology and proven solution-oriented thinking to navigate this situation and times and come out on the other side stronger, wiser, and better than before. Frankly, we don’t have the luxury of time to play the blame game; we need people in the room who are willing to find an answer and make a way. Only when we understand the problem will we be able to apply the solution. We owe it to our nation, all our children and future generations.