Reading Comprehension: The Need to Understand the Differences between Skills and Strategies


To understand comprehension as a strategic process, clarification between the fine, but often confused distinction between teaching skills and teaching strategies is necessary.

Skilled Readers

There is a demand for more people who are skilled readers. The workplace is in need of workers who are able to:

  • Analyze and monitor their understanding
  • Communicate what they understand
  • Ask appropriate questions to clarify and understand a situation
  • Identify and solve problems
  • Formulate and test solutions
  • Locate resources and information when they need it
  • Work on teams cooperatively
  • Be reflective and think critically

Strategic Readers

There is a need for more people who are strategic readers. The work place needs readers who can analyze, plan, monitor, regulate, and reflect on the reading process so that they comprehend at a higher level of thinking.Teaching for strategic readers does not mean that skills are not taught.

It does mean that skills need to be brought to the strategic level, which is a much higher level of thinking /understanding. This type of understanding is needed in the rapidly changing world of business, technology, and most importantly in the daily lives of all citizens.

What Does It Mean to Be a Struggling Reader?

Rarely do children struggle as readers for a single reason. More often, it is a combination of reasons. There is no one cause and no one teaching method or one commercial program that will work for all struggling readers. Struggling readers have individual needs and are entitled to interventions specific to those needs. Readers struggle for different reasons: decoding, comprehension, speed, fluency, and reader experiences/prior knowledge. No matter what program may be used for teaching reading, there will be some children who still struggle.

Factors that may hinder reading acquisition:

  • Hearing or vision problems
  • Language problems
  • Lack of experience with reading and books
  • Lack of background knowledge about the text being read
  • Inability to concentrate on text
  • Lack of interest or motivation to read
  • Misconceptions about what reading is and how to do it
  • Highly mobile families who move from school to school in the early years
  • Trauma or lack of basic requirements such as hunger or safe environment
  • Overemphasis of phonics
  • Not enough emphasis on phonics
  • Limited access to books

Decoding by Analogy

Decoding by analogy means to compare the unknown word to familiar words. For example, a child might encounter the word shame and use the known word came to read shame. An older child might use history to read historian.

Beginning Readers

  • Beginning readers do not begin with words that are difficult. The words they read are usually short, often only one syllable.
  • For decoding by analogy to be successful, the reader must have a bank of known words in his head, to use in decoding an unknown word.
  • Teachers draw attention to and help children learn words with high-utility spelling word families. These words will help when decoding by analogy. For more information see High Utility Word Families

Older Readers

  • Older children expand their ability to decode by analogy with multi-syllabic words, such as in reading compass by dividing the word into two parts. The reader uses come to read com– and uses pass for –pass.
  • They continue to learn ways to decode by analogy when they receive instruction in prefixes, suffixes, and meanings of base words to infer an unknown meaning of a word. For more information see Phonics with Intermediate Readers.