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What Causes Poor Reading Comprehension?

Reading comprehension is critical to school success

Reading comprehension is critical to school success

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.

Decoding Deficiency

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.

Attention Deficit

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.

Poor Vocabulary

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.


Lara on June 12, 2020:

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I found this information to be spot on. Yes, it can be decoding issue - not being able to sound out the words but not catching this at a young age can turn into many other problems. Not being able to read multisyllabic words, skipping text, not developing vocabulary, not reading the text your peers are gaining knowledge from and yes, therefore not obtaining the background knowledge you need to comprehend what you are reading.

LitMom on April 29, 2015:

I'm sorry... but as the mother of a dyslexic and an active active literacy advocate, this is way off base. Your whole paragraph on decoding isn't even close to what's actually going on when someone needs to know how to decode.

Readers who can't decode do not need more structure and formal instruction. They need specialized reading instruction with a multi-sensory approach that has been backed and proven by scientific study. It's not about unlocking the English "code." It's about creating new neurological pathways in the brain.

Lack of knowledge base? If lack of knowledge were really a reason for poor reading efficiency, nobody would learn anything ever. People read to learn. Universities sort of depend on it. We read to establish a knowledge base, not to confirm what we already knew.

I urge you to please thoroughly research anything else you may try to publish in the future.

BooksGalore (author) from Hawaii on August 07, 2013:

Thanks mbwalz. Glad you liked it!

MaryBeth Walz from Maine on August 07, 2013:

My daughter was lucky enough to get assigned to a reading help group all through elementary school and she now LOVES to read! She's also a darned good writer and does both on her own - she's now going into 8th grade. My other daughter just didn't like to read, until we discovered audiobooks. Come to find out, she's an auditory learner. Some people don't understand the value of listening to books in the reading process, but it can be very beneficial (I wrote a hub on that).

Great Hub and important information. Many times when our kids don't read, we don't have the understanding of why nor do we know what to do. Thanks!

This is gread

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