Reading Comprehension

For weeks, Lily’s teacher has been pushing for me to ask Lily more reading comprehension questions. The teacher claims that while Lily is able to read very fluently for her age, Lily needs work on her reading comprehension. She claims that when she tested Lily’s reading, Lily bombed the reading comprehension questions.

I’ve been confused about this for a while because whenever I ask Lily questions about what we read, she’s able to retell most of the story. Maybe I am asking the wrong questions?

Needless to say, I was curious as to what an official kindergarten reading comprehension question would be. Today was the first time Lily brought home official reading comprehension questions from school, and I’m even more baffled by reading comprehension than ever before. The questions were almost unanswerable for me, a 34 year old English major who went on to get an MA in journalism. I should be able to answer kindergarten reading comprehension questions without much thought, right?

In an effort not to break copyright laws, I will rephrase the book right here for you. Don’t worry, it’s shorter than everything I’ve already written.

    He Walks

He walks to the bus.
He walks to the train.
He walks to the boat.
He walks to the plane.
He walks to the school.
He walks to the store.
He walks home.

It was accompanied by illustrations of a boy walking all of these places.

If you were to ask me what this book was about, I’d say it was about a boy who walked a bunch of places and you’d probably agree that I had grasped the concept of the book, right? I mean, there was no plot to remember. There were no important details. It was just a boy walking places.

But here are the reading comprehension questions for this book:
1) What happened at the beginning?
2) What happened in the middle?
3) What happened at the end?

Apparently it’s CRUCIAL to remember the order of the places this guy walked? Was she supposed to memorize the list in order? I honestly couldn’t remember the order myself. He walked some places, none interesting.

Lily told me one place he walked for each question and I hope that was good enough, but was she just supposed to rewrite the entire book? Is it really important to remember that he went to the train before he went to the boat if nothing happened either place?

Then comes the most baffling reading comprehension question of the bunch.

4) Where did this story take place? (setting)

Where did this story take place?! The boy was in a different location in every single picture. No permanent location is indicated in the text. He’s going from place to place. Is this a trick question? I don’t understand!

Lily and I thought about this question for a long time and I honestly don’t know what the correct answer is. We eventually decided the answer was “He was walking outside.” It took all my effort not to end that sentence with a question mark (I was supposed to write down what she said.).

If this was the sort of sample Lily was given for her reading comprehension screening at school, no wonder she bombed the thing.

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5 Responses to Reading Comprehension

  1. jesse

    Weird questions. Weird way to promote books for children. When I was five I remember the first book I truly loved and read totally on my own: there was a goat that wanted to sing. She went to a bunch of places, bought a new dress, etc. It was a small novel for very young kids (not just a picture book, I mean, it had about 60 pages, some drawings and big lettering, but it was in novel format). And I have remembered it forever. I remember reading it on the sofa and feeling so proud and loving it. I have loved reading ever since. Without any weird questions asked.

    • I always thought Reading Comp should be about grasping the main concepts and remembering the important plot points of a book. I remember bombing some questions on Reading Comp tests in middle school when bizarre questions were asked about mundane details like “What color was minor character’s coat?” in a 200 page book. Maybe I missed the symbolism, but wouldn’t we have discussed it in class if that was important? Maybe I missed THAT? It happened all the time in that particular class so I suspect the questions were weird that time around. I seriously don’t get how someone was supposed to answer that setting question!

      • jesse

        I don’t see this stuff as Reading Comp either, maybe just memorizing practice? “Hey, kids, this is how you are supposed to memorize History in about 10 years, start practicing, you know”. I think these classes would be a lot more useful the way you say. A little summary is enough, and it requires a lot more comprehension than remembering one minor detail.
        I remember in middle school too, some exams just as yours… some silly detailed question asked in a big book… And that counted for the grade… So most people still hated to read. Those silly questions sure didn’t help. You had to read in a very strange state of mind: never knew where questions could come from…

  2. We got this kind of questioning too from educators. I guess some kids just mechanically read without understanding the story? Nobody would believe our 3/4/5 year old could read and understand. And he’d also fail to be able to answer some of their reading comp. questions, even though he could run to us and explain the super exciting things in whatever magic treehouse or magic schoolbus book he was currently reading. I guess that must be why (we only saw this in action once– DC1, age 3, read a completely age-inappropriate Level 1 spider-man book that our friend’s SIL-a teacher- had brought, and then she asked him, “Who died?” and DC1 didn’t know, we think because DC1 didn’t know what death was!)

    Re: memorization, some of my first year graduate students still think that’s the end all and be all of learning.

    • I wondered if I was missing something when I got the note home because I’d just been at a group conference where we were told that the goal for the end of the YEAR was to read a book. She’s been reading books for ages! To get a note home a couple weeks later about reading comprehension problems was bizarre. I suspect she didn’t take the questions seriously when the teacher was asking them or that she was distracted. I guess we’ll see how the next screening goes.

      I remember college in the arts being more about understanding concepts than memorizing much of anything. It’s hard for me to get how memorizing the order of where a character walked would improve her skills in anything.

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