What Causes Poor Reading Comprehension?
There are a variety of reasons why a reader may have difficulty deriving meaning and gaining understanding from a passage. The reasons include but are not limited to decoding deficiency, attention deficit, poor vocabulary, and limited knowledge base. Future articles will discuss remedies for each of these.
The most obvious reason for poor reading comprehension is decoding deficiency. This is simply educational jargon for the inability to sound out words. However, it is technically more accurate to refer to it as a decoding deficiency because some readers are able to recognize or “decode” a word while at the same time being unable to pronounce it correctly. Some students, particularly those with learning disabilities, need more structured and formal instruction in unlocking the English ‘code’ than others.
Another reason for difficulty in reading comprehension is an attention deficit which, when officially diagnosed, is referred to as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This is basically the inability to pay attention to or focus on information received by the senses efficiently and effectively in order to process it in the brain. This can actually be much harder to remedy than other causes of poor reading comprehension.
The third cause of weak reading comprehension is insufficient vocabulary. No matter how skillful a person is at sounding out words, if he or she does not know the meaning of the words he or she is reading, he will not gain understanding from the text.
It is very common for readers with ADD or ADHD to have low level vocabularies for their age; for this reason ADD/ADHD acts as a double whammy against reading comprehension. This is why ADD/ADHD can rightly be called a type of learning disability.
Lack of Knowledge Base
The final cause of ineffectual reading comprehension to be discussed here is lack of knowledge base. This refers to how much knowledge a reader has about the subject of which he or she is reading. It actually goes hand-in-hand with vocabulary. If the reader knows little about the subject he is reading, he will find it more difficult to comprehend the material than someone who has some knowledge about the subject. This is why textbooks are more difficult to understand than a novel or a story.
In a novel, the reader often encounters events that are similar in many ways to his or her own life experience and they are therefore more likely to gain meaning from the text. Although, I might add, people with ADD or ADHD often have a great deal of difficulty in keeping track of the characters in a novel and what each character does.
This is also why what is known as cultural deprivation often results in poor educational performance. A reader who has had limited exposure and experiences in life will likely have much less general knowledge overall than someone who has been exposed to many new and different experiences. Money is often a factor in how many opportunities and experiences a person is exposed to and is one reason why lower socioeconomic individuals are more likely than the middle or upper classes to have difficulty with reading and the resulting overall poor school achievement.
To sum, causes of poor reading comprehension can be varied and complex. Some readers may have several or even all of these barriers going against them which can render the reading process for them completely unfathomable. Usually proper diagnosis and remediation by a professional is needed to bring a solution to light.