Levels of Comprehension and Asking Questions

I want to share with you about levels of comprehension. We are also going to look at questioning. Levels of comprehension include three main levels. The first one is literal. The second one is inferential. And the third one is applied.

If you look at Bloom’s taxonomy, the literal is the knowledge level. Inferential is comprehension. Applied includes the other four levels of Bloom's taxonomy: application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

There is another way to parallel these levels. Literal is when the answer is Right there. You can find the answer to the question right there in the text. There is no question. It is printed right there.

Inferential you are looking for clues. You think and search. You infer. Inferential. You read between the lines.

Applied is on you own. What would you have done? How does this relate to you?

Rosenblatt talks about creating a poem. It’s based on the reader’s interaction with the text. It’s a creative process. The interpretation and the creation of the poem is individual.

I don’t know about you, but I remember being in classes where we were supposed to interpret the meaning of something we read. Many times I did not get the same interpretation. Rosenblatt would say that is okay. Interpretation is based on individual background knowledge and experiences, and we all bring different experiences and knowledge to the task of reading.

When you are reading to a child sometimes you may ask the question. Sometimes you may have the child ask the question. But you want to think about the different levels of comprehension.

You also want to think about the structures of text. And if you recall from the structured overview, discourse can be divided into oral and written text. In reading, we are looking at the written text. When we look at the text we read, we can easily divide it between poetry and prose. And then prose includes narrative and exposition.

When you are asking questions you consider the structure of the text you have read. When we read Cornelius, we can look at the title. We can ask questions about the setting. Where does it take place? Who is the main character? Who are the other characters? What is the problem? What events led to the resolution of the problem? How was the problem solved?

Then there is the theme. What can we learn from Cornelius? What can we learn from the monkey? What can we learn from the other crocodiles?

Remember to ask questions at the applied level. What does this book say to you? What do you feel is the most important in the story? What will you most about the story?

If we are looking at exposition, we are going to look again the title. This one says, The Life and Times of an Apple, so we are going to be asking questions about an apple. You can use the table of content to ask questions. How does an apple grow from a flower? How do you harvest apples? What kinds or varieties are there? When is it apple blossom time? What is grafting? How do you graft? How would you plant an apple seed? So many questions can be asked as a review from the table of contents.

Use the headings. Use the topic sentences to form questions. Use the illustrations. Go through the text and ask questions and talk about it—without reading every word.

Let’s go back to Cornelius. Let’s look at the levels of comprehension in this book. For example, on the literal level: What can Cornelius do? If you answer he can walk on two feet, then that’s literal. If the child answers, “It looks like he is showing off.” The child inferred.

If we ask, “What does the monkey do?” You can look at the pictures. This is why reading to even very young children is so important because you are developing language skills, and thinking, and comprehension skills. Even if they can’t recognize the words, and they are not decoding, that is okay. They are developing the ability to learn from text—at a very young age—even children who are not talking. You help them develop vocabulary.

Well, the monkey, what does he do? He can stand on his head. He shows Cornelius how to hang from his tail. But he also helps Cornelius. The text does not say that the monkey is going to help Cornelius, but the monkey tells Cornelius that all he needed was a little help and it shows a picture of the monkey helping Cornelius. So, there is evidence that the monkey helped Cornelius.

If you ask, “Well, what was the monkey like?” He was kind. He was helpful. He was encouraging. It doesn’t look like he made fun of Cornelius. He was supportive.

You might ask questions at the applied level. What would you have done if you had been the other crocodiles? How would you have treated Cornelius? If you had been the monkey, what would you have said when Cornelius came to your part of the world and showed off what he could do. How would you have responded? Would you have helped him? Would you have shown him what you could do?

You might also ask, “Do you ever feel different?” How does that make others feel? When others can do things you can’t do, how do you feel? How do you treat them?

Is it okay to be different? That is an evaluation level question according to Bloom’s taxonomy. Is it okay? And if you ask questions that are closed ended, that only need a yes or no, always ask why. Why is it okay to be different? Or, when is it okay to be different?

Synthesis is when you are asking for a summary. Sometimes you could just say, “Well, tell me what you remember.” That’s not a question, but you are still developing comprehension and cognition, because you are going to find out what the child absorbed from the story.

These are some suggestions for developing comprehension and asking questions.