The complexity of the reading process

A new report, “Building a Knowledge Base in Reading,” reviews current research findings on how children acquire language and literacy. It stresses the importance of teaching skills within a meaningful context while identifying phonics as an essential piece of the complex process of teaching and learning reading.

Drs. Jane Braunger and Jan Lewis, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, write that “a balanced instructional approach that incorporates the strengths of different classroom approaches and applies what we know about how children learn to be literate” is necessary to ensure that all children acquire reading and writing proficiency. The report concludes that to be effective, teacher must have a clear understanding of the complexity that characterizes the reading process. Braunger and Lewis compiled a list of “core understandings” about learning to read that include:

1.Reading is a construction of meaning from written text. It is an active, cognitive and affective process.

2.Background knowledge and prior experience are critical to the reading process.

3. Social interaction is essential in learning to read.

4. Reading and writing develop together.

5. Reading involves complex thinking.

6. Environments rich in literacy experiences, resources and models facilitate reading development.

7. Engagement in the reading task is key in successfully learning to read.

8. Children’s understandings of print are not the same as adults’ understandings.

9. Children develop phonemic awareness and knowledge of phonics through a variety of literacy opportunities models and demonstrations.

10. Children learn successful reading strategies in the context of real reading.

11. Children learn best when teachers employ a variety of strategies to model and demonstrate reading knowledge, strategy and skills.

12. Monitoring development of reading processes is vital to students’ success.

13. Children need the opportunity to read, read, read.

Braunger and Lewis also describe practices that hinder children’s development as readers. These were compiled by researchers at the 1997 International Reading Association Convention and include: emphasizing only phonics; drilling on isolated letters or sounds; teaching letters and words one at a time; insisting on correctness; expecting students to spell correctly all the words they can read; making perfect oral reading the goal of reading instruction; focusing on skills rather than interpretation and comprehension; constant use of workbooks and worksheets; fixed ability grouping; and blind adherence to a basal program.

“Report on Reading Stresses Complexity of Process,” Northwest Report, November-December 1997, pp. 1, 6, 8.

Published in ERN May/June 1998 Volume 11 Number 5

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