Wednesday, March 31, 2021

How High Interest Books Boost Reading Comprehension

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How using high interest books can boost reading comprehension in hyperlexic kids.

I know you're wondering how to improve your hyperlexic child's reading comprehension skills. I mean, why else would you be here, right?

Comprehension is definitely an area that our hyperlexic kids need some extra support with, especially as they get into the higher grades and the texts become harder. Grade four seems to be the key turning point. See these important hyperlexia milestones for more information.

So what can you do to build good reading comprehension skills with hyperlexic kids? Is there an easy way to do it?

Well, you can start by using high interest books to boost reading comprehension. Below you'll learn how something as simple as selecting a high interest reading material can drastically impact a child's comprehension skills.

Hyperlexia and reading comprehension: how using high interest books can boost reading comprehension skills

High Interest Books: What Does that Mean?

A high interest book means selecting a reading material that is of high interest to the child, just like the name implies. It includes books that are on topics that are related to your child's interests. It also includes certain book types or formats. For instance, if your kid prefers graphic novels over chapter books. Basically, a high interest book is something that is interesting and appealing to your child.

And just to clarify, we're not discussing reading level difficulty or anything here. 

Instead we're focusing purely on selecting books that will be the most appealing to your child during a reading session.

So How Do High Interest Books Affect Reading Comprehension Skills?

There are two ways in which high interest books affect your hyperlexic child's reading comprehension skills and it has to do with:

  • Reading motivation
  • Better background knowledge and schema
We'll dive deeper into these two points below and how they help build good reading comprehension skills.

1. High Interest Books Lead to an Increase in Reading Motivation and Better Buy-in

In the book Drawing a Blank, Emily Iland writes, "the reader must also be motivated to read and interested in the material." That means that your child is more likely to be interested in reading a book when it's about a topic that they're actually interested in and motivated to read. You're probably the same way, right? I mean it just makes sense that our motivation to read enhances text comprehension.

As Lester (2003) points out in her thesis on comprehension in hyperlexia, "children need to be motivated and interested in order to use strategies for learning. Interest in a topic has been shown to increase a child's comprehension." 

So we know that high interest means better comprehension, which is exactly what Lester found. She notes that, "students with hyperlexia had better comprehension on more difficult reading passages with high interest compared to their low interest passages...[suggesting] that when motivation to comprehend is very high, these students can focus enough to understand what they are reading." (source)

Ostrolenk et al. (2017) highlighted similar in their review of the hyperlexia literature, pointing out that "reading comprehension is improved in autistic children when their interests are embedded in text."

At this point, it's pretty clear that using books based on your child's interests creates better buy-in (aka they're more likely to want to read it). And better buy-in leads to better comprehension.

So if you want to work on improving your hyperlexic child's comprehension, then always start by picking a book that is of high interest and motivating for them to read. 

If they're simply not interested in reading it, then how can you expect them to want to practice comprehension strategies or answer questions about the text? So picking a book on a topic that they're interested in is just one of those effective comprehension strategies.

2. High Interest Books Mean Better Background Knowledge, Which Means Better Comprehension

Another reason why you want to use books that are related to your child's interest has to do with schema and background knowledge. Something that's really important when it comes to comprehension. 

The book Drawing a Blank points out that "background knowledge is another important part of understanding what is read." 

Even if your general reading comprehension is good, it is much harder to understand a text when you don't have some kind of prior knowledge about what it's about. Again, you're probably the same way, right?

Interestingly enough, it's even been suggested that, "the poor comprehension of children with hyperlexia may be due in part to a lack of schema for topics read or difficulties activating relevant schema." (Lester, 2003), which I think is a fascinating theory.

Regardless, increasing schema and background knowledge leads to better comprehension for all readers, not just hyperlexic ones.

In fact, "many studies have shown that prior knowledge or schemata influence a reader's comprehension." (Lester, 2003)

Now, your hyperlexic child likely already has good background knowledge on quite a few subjects already, whether that's related to planets and their moons, the periodic table, countries of the world, previous US presidents, or the entire history of the video game industry. Their comprehension for books on these subjects will be much higher because they have the schema to reference and draw from while they read.

As a side note...I think this could be the reason why there are so many parents of hyperlexic children who are adamant that their child's reading comprehension is just fine. They've only checked comprehension on these high interest books and not the low interest ones. So I'd be curious to see what happens when they swap that book for something that is of low interest and/or that the child has minimal background knowledge on. But anyway that's not the focus here...

To recap, high interest books often mean better background knowledge and schema, which, in turn, means better comprehension.

So naturally you'll see better comprehension from our hyperlexic readers when they have background knowledge on the subject.

Hopefully you can now see why schema and background knowledge are necessary for good reading comprehension skills. You can learn more about how to build schema here.

Hyperlexia and reading comprehension: how using high interest books can boost reading comprehension skills