LEVELS OF COMPREHENSION
Comprehension is the fullfillment of a particular purpose through the use of appropriate material that is read in particular way (Durkin, 1979). Thus, it cannot be denied that comprehension is in line with reading purposes.
Comprehension consists of some levels which refer to hierarchy of human mind operation, from the lowest to the highest level. These levels can be distinguished based on complexity needed to understand a reading selection.
There are three levels of reading comprehension, i.e. literal comprehension (reading the lines), interpretative comprehension (reading between the lines), and applied/critical comprehension (reading beyond the lines).
Literal comprehension is the lowest level of comprehension. According to Smith and Robinson (1980), literal comprehension is getting the meaning of a text only on its surface. They state that ”there is no depth in this kind of reading” (1980:216). Usually to check the students’ comprehension, teachers give questions constructed from words in the text. Other practices that are commonly used are: factual questions based on the text, true-false statements, completion sentences, and multiple choice exercises (Smith and robinson, 1980). These kinds of practices require no deep thinking. They simply demand students to recall from memory what the text says and to repeat parrot-like the words that are in the text.
Meanwhile, Burns, Roe, Ross (1984) state that literal comprehension involves acquiring information that is directly stated in a selection. Eventhough it is the primary one, still it has an important role in comprehension. In their opinion, reading for literal comprehension is important in and of itself and is also prerequisite for higher-level understanding.
Most practices in literal comprehension involve meaning-getting skills. Recognizing stated main ideas, details, causes and effects, and sequence is the basis of literal comprehension. A thorough understanding of vocabulary, sentence meaning, and paragraph meaning is also important (Burns, Roe, Ross, 1984).
The second level of readinf comprehension is interpretative comprehension which is higher than literal comprehension. Interpretative comprehension involves reading between the lines or making inferences. Readers are deriving ideas that are implied rather than directly stated in the text (Burns Roe, Ross, 1984).
Similar to Burns, Roe, and Ross, Smith and Robinson (1980) state that in interpretative comprehension,”…..readers read between the lines and make connections among stated ideas, make inferences, draw conclutions, or experience emotional reactions” (1980:218).
Interpretative reading requires skills in: (1) inferring main ideas of a passage in which the main ideas are not directly stated, (2) inferring cause and effect relationship when they are not directly stated, (3) inferring referents of pronouns, (4) inferring referents of adverbs, (5) inferring omitted words, (6) detecting the author’s purpose in writing, and (8) drawing conclusions.
Critical comprehension is the highest level of reading comprehension. It requires readers to think critically of what is written in the text. Burns, Roe, and Ross (1984:190) define critical reading as evaluating wtitten material, i.e. comparing the ideas discovered in the material with known standards and drawing conclusions about their accuracy, appropriateness and timelines. The critical reader must be an active reader, questioning, searching for facts, and suspending judgement until he or she has considered all of the material. Critical reading depends upon literal comprehension on interpretative comprehension and grasping implied ideas.
Ennins (in Smith and Robinson, 1980) lists twelve aspects of critical thinking: (1) grasping the meaning of a statement, (2) judging whether there is an ambiguity in a line of reasoning, (3) judging whether certain statements contradict each other, (4) judging whether a conclusion follows necessity, (5) Judging whether a statement is specific enough, (6) Judging whether a statement is actually the reaction of a certain principle, (7) judging whether a statement is reliable, (8) judging whether an inductive conclusion is warranted, (9) judging whether the problem has been identified, (10) judging whether a definition is adequate, (12) judging whether a statement made by an alleged authority is acceptable.