What You Can Do When Your Student Doesn’t “Get It”

Teachers know there is a long list of reasons to make reading a lifelong habit: the cognitive workout we get when we read and the exposure to new ideas are arguably top reasons to be a regular reader. So, when a student (who otherwise has adequate decoding skills) is unenthusiastic about books, regardless of the topic, it is certainly reason for concern.


Most reading experts agree on one thing: in order to comprehend what they read, students must have strong decoding skills and adequate oral vocabulary. In other words, they must be able to accurately decode every word on the page and also know what the words mean.


Unfortunately, many students who are able to decode well and understand words continue to demonstrate weak comprehension skills. This is the student in your class who reads but never appears to “get it.” Words seem to go in one ear and out the other. This is a student who may also demonstrate weak memory when following directions or has a hard time understanding conversations.  They may appear to not even try to listen.


These students may only be getting parts of the information they read or hear, but not the whole.


They can be helped.


What is missing for these students?


Clinical research over the last thirty years indicates there is a separate comprehension weakness that is rarely identified. This weakness often undermines the reading process. It is a weakness, based in the sensory system, in creating an imaged gestalt or “whole.”


Nanci Bell, author of the Visualizing and Verbalizing® for Language Comprehension and Thinking program, first became aware of the connection that underlies comprehension while she was teaching phoneme awareness to students struggling with literacy, many of whom had been previously diagnosed as dyslexic. Nanci has described that at the time, she was unaware of a separate comprehension dysfunction. Like many others, she believed difficulty with reading comprehension was caused by weak decoding and weak oral vocabulary skills.


In the following excerpt from Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking, Nanci Bell describes the incident that sparked her passion to change learning for students struggling with weak comprehension.




Needing a break in the lesson from spelling word after word, I decide to have Allan,    [a college student majoring in architecture], read and give me a verbal summary.  Handing him a college level skill book, I ask him to read aloud so I can be certain he is decoding accurately.


He accurately reads the page of material, and I take the book from him, saying, “Good job.  Tell me what you read.”


Allan gives me the very complete summary, beginning with the main idea and then including all the details.  To my amazement, he infers, concludes, predicts, and evaluates the material.  He is confident and involved in the activity – a much different Allan than the one that struggles with spelling.


I stare at him, saying, “That was really an incredible summary.  How are you able to do that?”


Looking at me, surprised and now shy, Allan replies, “I don’t know.”


Realizing that Allan seems embarrassed and unsure of himself because of my question, I reassure him.  “That really was good.  You have very good reading comprehension.  How did you do that?  If I know what you do to remember what you read, perhaps I can teach others to do it.”


Thoughtful, Allan replies, “I don’t know.”  Then, after a pause, he says, “I make movies when I read.”


A little surprised, I ask, “What do you mean, you make movies when you read?”


“I don’t know.  I just see movies in my head when I read.  The words turn into pictures and I just remember the pictures, the images.  Don’t you do that?”


Thinking about the books I’ve read, I finally answer, “Yes.  I do.  I picture what I read.  I guess I’ve just not thought about it.”


“Do other people do that, too?”


“I don’t know … but I’ll find out …”


The statement “I make movies when I read” prompted my twenty-five-year-odyssey exploring the relationship between imagery and language.  Today, twenty years after first writing Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking, I am still passionate about the importance of imagery to comprehension and cognition. (Bell, 2007, pp. 4-8)




If you have students who are demonstrating weak reading or language comprehension skills, you can learn the steps of the Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language Comprehension and Thinking program by attending one of our workshops for teachers: Schedule and Locations


If you need further information or have questions, please contact us at:


Melbourne: (03) 9815 2949

Sydney Chatswood: (02) 9410 1006

Sydney Double Bay: (02) 9328 7119


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