Addressing Comprehension Errors

In order to further fine-tune students’ reading comprehension, it may be helpful to do an error analysis…looking at where students are making errors and the nature of those errors.  Error analysis can be done by analyzing student test answers on standardized tests (boring—but sometimes necessary) or through listening to student conversations in literature circles.

In my experience, I see frequent errors of both higher and lower level thinking.

Higher Level Thinking

Inference

Students are programmed to look for the “right answer” in the text.  This works often but it doesn’t work when the author gives us clues and doesn’t tell us directly.  It also doesn’t work when there is subtext.  A character might say, “I’m have a great day.” But the character is really having a lousy day.  Students can’t always take a character at their word.

Lack of Vocabulary Strategies

After students have taken a test, I always go over the test.  Rather than giving students definitions of words, we talk about how you could kinda-sorta figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words when you’re left out there on your own and in the middle of taking a test.

For example, if you didn’t know what paralyzed meant, you’d be given a clue from a following paragraph which talks about the guy being in a wheelchair.  If you didn’t know what granite was, you could kinda figure it was some kind of rock because the passage said the mountain was made of granite.  Students need a set of vocabulary strategies at their disposal.

Errors of reasoning

Here’s a fantastic list of 15 Reasoning Errors by Mark Pennington.  Mark lists things like omission errors, when students leave out words when they’re reading that change the entire meaning.

Low Level Thinking

These do not require great thinking and yet about half of the errors I see are due to these problems.

Pronoun confusion

Students get questions wrong simply because they don’t know who “he” or “she” refers to.  In addition to summarizing, when you’re doing guided reading, it’s a good idea to stop now and then and ask who is “he” or who are “they”?  Make sure students are able to identify the person the pronoun refers to.

Contractions/Abbreviations

Even fluent readers I work with get confused between Mr. and Mrs.  It makes a big difference in who we’re reading about.  Students read don’t as do or skip the word entirely and it changes the meaning of the sentence.

Are there any other comprehension errors you see your students making?

5 Responses to Addressing Comprehension Errors

  1. Kiwana Bufton

    This is a great article for new teachers!

  2. I have found that one of the best ways to improve comprehension is by turning the students into the writers! Using the Studentreasures Publishing program I have my students write and illustrate their own stories and have them published into hardbound books for free! It is a great teaching tool that fosters a love of reading and writing among my students.

  3. I have recommended Student Treasures in a previous post. For those who didn’t read it, the company gathers student writing a publishes a free hardback book for your classroom of that writing. I have used them in my classroom to motivate student writers and I love it. However, I disagree that it improves student comprehension. Writing improves writing. Comprehension needs to be explicitly taught.

  4. The article is very helpful for me as a student learning new things that will help me in the classroom. I would have to say that comprehension comes from practice and correction from teachers and students. Learning is a hands on project that is where I think most children figure out what they are doing wrong. The strategies are great ways that help better students.

  5. Hello Mathew.My name is Catina Magby.The article is very helpful for me as a student learning new things that will help me in the classroom. I would have to say that comprehension comes from practice and correction from teachers and students. Learning is a hands on project that is where I think most children figure out what they are doing wrong. The strategies are great ways that help better students. I am a student at South Alabama and I was assigned to read your post and write a summary on them.I enjoyed your post you may find my link at

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