It is very common for people to say to me that their child reads but doesn't understand. This is not reading.
Reading is a problem-solving activity where readers make meaning from and sense what they have read. Just being able to 'say' words is not reading. It is decoding.
Confusing decoding with reading is a common mistake, but it is important to make this distinction. Children who can decode - even those who can decode quite well - may not draw any meaning from their reading. And if no meaning-making is happening, no reading is happening.
Of course, when children are reading, we want them to be able to recognise and say the words. The ability to decode accurately and efficiently is essential to becoming a good reader.
But we also want them to be able to follow along and to be able to make sense of what they are reading. It is also essential readers develop the skills to recognise and do something about it when they can't make sense of what they are reading. Because if a child is not doing that, then they are not a reader.
To make meaning, readers use information from two sources. First, they draw on knowledge and experience in their minds. The second source is to draw on the information present in the text. The narrower the gap between the two sources, the more likely it is that meaning is constructed.
Of course, most children haven't lived long enough to acquire background knowledge to understand what they are reading without some help. This lack of background knowledge can make reading about an unfamiliar topic challenging because they are trying to process new information about an unfamiliar topic, as well as having to decode the words.
Unfamiliar words is another common problem children face as they move through their schooling. This is why I encourage all teachers to focus on explicit vocabulary building when introducing a new subject to their class. If your students do not have adequate knowledge of important words or concepts in the subjects they study, they will struggle to comprehend written text. If this is the case, they are unlikely to be able to demonstrate their knowledge through writing.