Active reading is one of the most important skills primary children can develop. At its simplest, reading is an interactive process between the reader and the scribbles on the page that results in meaning. The reader uses knowledge, skills, and strategies to determine what that meaning is.
Understanding is the raison d’être of reading; and learning to understand is the enjoyable and rewarding part of learning to read. Comprehension is king.
To help children improve their reading and listening comprehension skills, Lucid Research has released a piece of software for the classroom called Comprehension Booster. This program aims to help children develop their inferential and deductive thinking, especially in understanding complex texts.
Comprehension Booster is designed primarily to help reluctant readers or pupils who do not get enough practice at reading to develop fluency in reading and comprehension.
If you buy the standard edition CD-ROM then you get 70 fictional texts. An expansion pack containing an additional 70 non-fictional texts can also be purchased for £20.
The texts vary in length from 50 – 300 words, which works well for some. However, as SATs texts are much longer, I would say some lengthier texts would be a useful addition, although these might be off-putting for less skilled learners at this stage. The texts are generally well matched to ability and age (there are 7 levels of difficulty) although I’d question the suitability of some of the 11-12 years and 12-14 years texts.
The texts are read by the computer and words are not highlighted as they are read. This is purposefully done as the focus isn’t on word decoding. There is a listen-only option too which will certainly be very useful for some learners. Certain words in each text are given definitions and this is a welcome feature. The sound recordings are good quality and they get the thumbs up. Each text comes with a nice little illustration as well. At the end of each passage there are a number of questions, which are all presented in a multiple-choice format. These test children’s skills in reading the lines or reading between the lines.
Teaching literal, inferential and evaluative question answering isn’t part of the program and I think this is a missed opportunity. However, Lucid tell us that this will probably feature in a future edition of the program. I’m not sure the multiple-choice format goes far enough in helping children to advance their skills, although it can provide a good start. What pupils need most support with is getting their thoughts down on paper and conspicuous strategies for improving their inferential and evaluative responses; and this involves writing and expressing opinions.
There is an in-built monitoring capability included in the software, and the CD-ROM contains some background information about the development of reading comprehension, but nothing that some of you won’t already know from your teacher training days. The really useful part of the manual is the information on how to use the program and this is well done.
Comprehension Booster is a decent program which offers a wide collection of texts that children will enjoy. These are largely well written, engaging and dovetailed to children’s ability and age. Teaching plans for individuals, groups or the whole class can be set with ease and the resource can be used in many ways.