Reading is an interactive process that goes on between the reader and the text, resulting in comprehension. The text presents letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs that encode meaning. The reader uses knowledge, skills, and strategies to determine what that meaning is.
The purpose(s) for reading and the type of text determine the specific knowledge, skills, and strategies that readers need to apply to achieve comprehension. Reading comprehension is thus much more than decoding. Reading comprehension results when the reader knows which skills and strategies are appropriate for the type of text and understands how to apply them to accomplish the reading purpose.
Reading research shows that good readers:
- Are motivated and interested in what they read.
- Read extensively.
- Integrate information in the text with existing knowledge.
- Have a flexible reading style, depending on what they are reading.
- Use different skills when they read: interacting, perceptual processing, phonemic processing, recall, etc.
- Read for a purpose; reading serves a function for them.
Readers need to develop the following competences during their reading sessions:
- Linguistic competence: The ability to recognize the elements of the writing system.
- Knowledge of vocabulary: Knowledge of how words are structured into sentences.
- Discourse competence: Knowledge of discourse markers and how they connect parts of the text to one another
- Sociolinguistic competence: Knowledge about different types of texts and their usual structure and content.
- Strategic competence: The ability to use top-down strategies as well as knowledge of the language (a bottom-up strategy)
Most students seem to think that reading means starting at the beginning and going word by word, stopping to look up every unknown vocabulary item, until they reach the end. When they do this, they are relying only on their linguistic knowledge, a bottom-up strategy. The role of the language teacher comes here to help students move past this idea and use top-down strategies as well as bottom-up ones.
Effective language teachers show students how they can adjust their reading behavior to deal with a variety of situations, types of input, and reading purposes. They help students develop a set of reading strategies and match appropriate strategies to each reading situation.
Strategies that can help students read more quickly and effectively include:
Reviewing titles, section headings, and photo captions to get a sense of the structure and content of a reading passage.
Using knowledge of the subject matter to make predictions about content and vocabulary and check comprehension; using knowledge of the text type and purpose to make predictions about discourse structure; using knowledge about the author to make predictions about writing style, vocabulary, and content.
3. Skimming and scanning:
Using a quick survey of the text to get the main idea, identify text structure, confirm or reject predictions. Then, reading carefully for more detailed information.
4. Guessing meanings from context:
Using prior knowledge of the subject and the ideas in the text as clues to the meanings of unknown words, instead of stopping to look them up.
Stopping at the end of a section to check comprehension by restating the information and ideas in the text.
Language teachers can help students apply these reading strategies in several ways, by:
- Modeling these strategies aloud:
Talking through the processes of previewing, predicting, skimming and scanning, and paraphrasing. This shows students how the strategies work and how much they can know about a text before they begin to read word by word.
- Allocating time in class for activities to develop these strategies:
Allowing time in class for group and individual previewing and predicting activities as preparation for in-class or out-of-class reading. Allocating class time to these activities indicates their importance and value.
- Using cloze (fill in the blank) exercises:
Use this kind of exercises to review vocabulary items. This helps students learn to guess meaning from context.
- Asking about the suitable strategies to use:
Encouraging students to talk about what strategies they think will help them approach a reading assignment, and then talking after reading about what strategies they actually used. This helps students develop flexibility in their choice of strategies.
When students use reading strategies, they find that they can control the reading experience, gain confidence in their ability to read the language and achieve the ultimate goal which is reading comprehension.
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