Thursday, March 07, 2024

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

Comprehension is an area that hyperlexic kids need some extra support with

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.

A definition of a high interest book

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.

Two ways in which high interest books affect your hyperlexic child's comprehension

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.

Your child is more likely to be interested in reading a book when it's about a topic that they're actually interested in

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."

Quote about interest in a topic increasing 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)

Quote about hyperlexia, high interest passages, and improved comprehension

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."

Quote about improved comprehension for autistic children when interests are embedded

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.

Work on improving your hyperlexic child's comprehension by starting with high interest books

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."

"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.

Quote about poor comprehension in hyperlexia being due in part to a lack of schema

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

Increasing schema and background knowledge leads to better comprehension

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

"Many studies have shown that prior knowledge or schemata influence a reader's comprehension."

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...

Summary of High Interest Books, Hyperlexia, & Comprehension

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 all readers, not just our hyperlexic readers, when they have background knowledge on the subject.

High interest books often mean better background knowledge and schema, which, in turn means better comprehension

Hopefully, you can now see why schema and background knowledge are necessary for good reading comprehension skills (more on how to build schema here) and how high interest books can help boost comprehension. After all, there is better schema and background knowledge when you use high interest books and texts.

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