Comprehension Weakness – Five Signs

Students with decoding issues, including dyslexia, can be easy to spot. They often miscall words (e.g. breakfast as “basket”); their oral reading is slow and “choppy;” and spelling is tough to master. It is important to identify these students who struggle, so they can get the help they need.


Unfortunately, there are many students who have a different, separate, learning issue that is rarely identified and, therefore, never addressed. Hidden in plain sight, many students have a learning weakness that prevents them from fully understanding the language they read and hear. For example, a student who doesn’t turn in homework assignments may be perceived as “unmotivated” or “lazy.” But it may just be that he has trouble understanding instructions in class.


A primary cause of language comprehension problems is difficulty creating mental images for language. This weakness causes individuals to get only “parts” of information they read or hear, but not the whole. This weakness often undermines the reading and thinking process. Students with weak language comprehension are commonly saddled with the misconception that they are just not trying, or, that they are distractible.  In fact, they may be trying very hard to memorise everything they have heard or read. And they need help.


Signs of comprehension weakness include:


1. Trouble understanding what they read

Students with weak comprehension have difficulty recalling what they’ve read. They might get parts, or some details, but may have difficulty remembering a book or story as a whole. Homework and schoolwork relying on their understanding of the text will be difficult.  They may not enjoy reading for pleasure.


2. Weak problem solving skills

Students with weak comprehension can be prone to poor decision making. Thinking through the implications and consequences of their actions may be challenging. Because they are only processing parts, they may not “see” the big picture.


They may have difficulty with problem solving methods required in maths and science.


3. Writing assignments are “painful” and poorly done

Many students with language comprehension weakness may also have poor writing skills because they lack the imagery for the gestalt (whole). Without the “big picture” idea for their topic, a student will have a hard time coming up with a strong paragraph. The ability to generate the main idea, offer supporting details, make inferences, and wrap up with a conclusion that is cohesive and well organised is challenging for this student.


4. Verbal expression is affected

This student may be prone to including irrelevant details or issues when speaking; she may re-tell stories out of sequence. On the other hand, she may be very quiet and shy. Whether they talk very little or a lot, their language seems disconnected from the listener.


5. Difficulty following directions

Students with a comprehension issue can become overwhelmed after more than one or two directions (“I’ll meet you at the car. Bring your tennis shoes. . .”). Directions from teachers and parents may appear to go in one ear and out the other, without a connection, and they seem unable to focus on what they are told.


Summer Solutions at Lindamood-Bell

The imagery-language connection can be developed as a foundation for comprehension and thinking. Students can make years of academic growth in just a few weeks, and go back to school ready to learn.


An accurate learning ability evaluation is the first step toward helping your child learn to their potential. We uncover the strengths and weaknesses that are affecting school, and in a thorough results consultation, we will discuss a learning plan to change learning in the shortest time possible.Recommendations are differentiated based on the unique learning needs of each student.


Make an impact this summer!  It’s a great time to get ahead for next school year.  Get started by contacting your local learning centre to discuss how we can help make this summer everything your family has been waiting for!


Double Bay (02) 9328 7119 | Chatswood (02) 9410 1006 | Melbourne (03) 9815 2949


  1. I have long been a supporter and advocate of your concept imagery work and read this post with interest, particularly as my own son has decoding difficulties. His case is interesting however as while he struggles with spelling and would do exactly as you described in misreading a word like ‘breakfast’ for ‘basket’ he has a broad vocabulary and excellent problem solving skills. In the last 18 mths he has developed a love of reading and loves to write computer code, which he has largely taught himself. I often think it’s not that he doesn’t know the word it’s that he doesn’t see the whole word at first glance. When he is forced to slow down and sound out all the parts he does much better but this makes the process painfully laborious. He is an excellent maths student who is very precise in that subject. I’m wondering if his difficulties with words are more a learned habit than a genuine learning difficulty.

    1. Hi Michelle, Read more about how developing symbol imagery (the ability to visualize letters) can improve reading accuracy, fluency, and spelling here.
      While some families come to us with a previous diagnosis, many just need reading to be easier. The first step is a learning evaluation that identifies what areas need to be strengthened. Instruction is based on individual learning needs. Please get in touch https://lindamoodbell.com/locations
      Thank you!


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