Reading Comprehension

I have been wanting to post about my students and their reading comprehension for a while. I kept going back and forth as to if I should post something or not.

I do not want people to misinterpret my posts and come to the conclusion that deaf students are not capable or that Kenyan students are not capable. That is far from the truth. It’s amazing what they can do and it’s amazing how much patience they have (seriously, if I were in their shoes I would be so frustrated that I would have given up a loonnnggggg time ago) and how badly they want to learn.

I am also not here to discuss/argue/debate which education systems/approaches are better.  I am here to find ways that will help my students learn.

I’m also a bit protective when it comes to my students. 🙂 They may drive me bonkers but at the end of the day…I love them. Sometimes I find myself looking into their eyes and I wonder how in the world I’ll be able to leave them in 2 years.

That being said, I decided to go ahead and start posting about reading comprehension in hopes that someone can provide some suggestions…after all…I don’t have a degree in Education.

The Kenya education system is set up to where students attend primary schools from Classes 0-8 (think pre-school-8th grade). They then take this huge exam at the end of Class 8 that decides if they get to go to (and which) secondary school (think high school). There are no grades or anything else…all that matters is that one exam score.

Basically students are expected to copy information into their notebooks from Classes 0-8 then they study all those notebooks during their Class 8 year.

Many of my students have been copying information for so long that they do not pay attention to what they’re writing which creates problems when I have them answer written questions.  The questions I ask are simpler and shorter than those found in their textbooks.

Keep in mind that many of them did not have access to language for many years.

Some examples of what my students (they’re around 11-15 years old) struggle with even though the book is right in front of them with the answers. They still struggle when I sign the sentences and when I point out the sentence in the book that has the answer (I have them sign it to me).

“List two examples of non-flowering plants.” I have spent the past 3 weeks trying to get my students to understand the concept of “list.”

“Which one is not part of the breathing system?” No one could get this correctly even though I had them all point out the parts on the breathing system diagram and I asked which one was not on the diagram.
a) Trachea
b) Sepal
c) Lungs
d) Nose

“Open your science books to page 32 and write the name of two plants.”  There’s a big figure on that page with pictures of about 10 different plants.
They were utterly confused and thought I was crazy.

“There is a diagram of the ______________ system on the wall.”
There are only two diagrams currently on the wall (breathing system and flowers) and only one student got this correct.

“Which one is not a flowering plant.”
a) Hibiscus
b) Maize
c) Tree
d) Rose
I had each student sign to me the names of each flower that was listed under “flowering plants” on the flower diagram I made. The only items on that list were “Hibiscus, Maize, and Rose.”  I then asked which one was not on the list and they would answer “Tree” and I would tell them they were correct.  Then they would go off and circle something else than “Tree.”

“The function of flowers are to produce what?”  There was a sentence on the flower diagram that said “The function of flowers are to produce fruits and seeds.”  Even after I pointed out the sentence and had each student sign the sentence…..most of the students still got it wrong.

These kids are amazing. They so badly want to do well and they try SO HARD.

I have 3 goals in mind when I come up with questions.  1) Improve reading comprehension 2) Expand vocabulary 3) Encourage students to use resources to find answers if they don’t know the answer

I try to throw in a couple of questions that I know for a fact they know the answer to because I want to build their confidence as well.  I try to find a mix of questions that will make them feel good about themselves yet challenge them when they need to be challenged in order to learn.

Ideas?  Thoughts?

1 thought on “Reading Comprehension

  1. Hello! I am an EDU PCV in the Philippines who enjoys reading your blogs! I have a friend who just came in to Kenya last june (he is also from AZ…). I am working with reading comprehension also. Well, ALL of us are.. I have a ton of information on this that might be helpful that I have been using for my remedial reading class. I can email it to you if your interested! My email is If I don’t hear from you then I will just share this with you. I tried having my students answer questions like this: I have a black phone… What color is the phone? It worked a little bit, but it seemed like they were just guessing. Then my counterpart chimed in and asked a student to pick out the noun in “i have a black phone”. The students had no idea what she was talking about. These are my first year high school students, which would be like your 6th year. Perhaps we have a similar problem. If so, then LITERALLY start with the basics. Good luck!

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