Interpreting written language and translating it into words and sentences that convey thoughts and ideas.
Reading is the recognition of printed letters and their interpretation as words and sentences. Words are used to convey, for example, information, instructions, warnings, and traffic directions. For most people in modern societies, the skill of reading is practiced numerous times during the course of a day.
Reading is a complex process involving vision and many cognitive and memory skills. Infants and toddlers begin to gain an understanding of the relationship between printed letters, words, and their meanings when someone reads aloud to them. Vocabulary is developed through the process of hearing language spoken in context; young children who enter school with rich vocabularies are more likely to be successful in learning to read.
Most schools begin to teach the skills of reading in kindergarten. Students' readiness for reading depends on a number of factors, including previous experiences,
Continuity is important for beginning readers. Some children experience difficulty when advancing from one grade to the next, because the new teacher's approach is different from that used the previous year. Children who move from one school district to another may experience similar difficulties; teachers should be attentive to the needs of new students in this critical area of education.
Educators refer to the word-interpretation errors children make while learning to read as miscues. Common miscues of the beginning reader include skipping a word or substituting a similar, known word for an unknown word. Students whose first language is not the language of their classroom experience the dual challenge of learning to read while learning to speak and understand the language at the same time. Many schools have provisions for bilingual education or (in the United States) English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to provide these students with extra support and instruction in all aspects of communication.
Reading skill is required for success in almost every subject in school and for many activities of adult life. Therefore, educators monitor reading progress carefully and employ a number of strategies to help readers who are having difficulty or who are reluctant to read. Reading is taught by two basic methods: phonics and whole language. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages, and many educators favor employing strategies using both methods to teach reading.
Word-recognition strategies taught to young readers (known as "word-attack" skills) include sight words (those words recognized by the configuration of their letters), context clues (analyzing other parts of the passage to "figure out" the unknown word), phonics ("sounding out"), and structural analysis (looking for recognizable morphemes, or parts of words). Reading specialists estimate that competent readers have the ability to recognize about 250 words by their shape alone. Context clues, including illustrations, are important aides for beginning readers that draw on past experiences and knowledge to help the young reader add new words to his or her reading vocabulary. Phonics helps the beginning reader to see relationships between the printed letters and their spoken sounds. Most teachers begin teaching the consonant sounds, followed by the consonant blends or combinations (sh, cl, or th, for example). Vowel sounds are introduced as new words are added to the student's reading vocabulary.
KEY READING SKILLS
- Perception: Is the reader able to recognize the printed combinations of letters as words?
- Comprehension: Does the reader understand and remember what he or she has read?
- Speed or rate: How fast is the reader reading?
- Scanning ability: Scanning or "survey reading" is a useful skill when the reader is looking for information quickly. Does the reader have the skill needed to quickly skim the content of a section of printed material?
- Techniques used to read new words, known as word-attack skills: How successful are the strategies the child uses when encountering a new, unfamiliar word?
- Vocabulary: How is the child's active vocabulary (words that a child can use independently) developing? Is the passive vocabulary (words that a child can decipher and understand in context, but does not use) growing? Is the number of words the child can read and recognize—known as "sight words"—growing? Similarly, is the sight vocabulary—the words the reader can recognize and understand without consulting a dictionary—growing?
Beginning readers typically read aloud to an adult, a peer, or to other members of a reading group. As a child's reading ability improves, he or she will begin silent reading, sometimes forming the words without speaking
A number of systems—termed readability measures—have been developed to convey the relative difficulty of reading material. Readability includes a number of assessments of printed materials, including average number of words per sentence, average number of syllables per word, number of complex sentences per paragraph or page, number of abstract ideas, use of pronouns, and the sophistication of the vocabulary used. The readability is expressed as a reading level, usually in terms of reading material typically included in specific grade level curricula. Thus, reference is made to reading material at the "third-grade" or "fifth grade level," for example.
LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN
In the 1980s, teachers began to replace basal readers—books with controlled vocabulary—with books of children's literature for the teaching of reading. Proponents of literature-based curricula cite many advantages to using this approach. Literature features interesting stories and characters, both of which help to motivate beginners to learn to read. Literature also helps children understand social relationships. When a reader relates a fictional character's decisions and actions to his own experiences, he is learning about social and moral decisions of real life.
The following organizations offer reading lists for readers of all skill levels:
American Library Association,
Young Adult Services Division (ALA-YASD)
Address: 50 East Huron
Chicago, IL 60611
Telephone: (312) 944-6780
Books for Children
Address: Consumer Information Center
Pueblo, CO 81002
(Publishes a list of the year's best books for preschool through middle school readers.)
Great Books Foundation
Address: 40 East Huron
Chicago, IL 60611
Telephone: toll-free (800) 222-5870
(Discussion materials on classic literature for groups of all ages.)
Chall, Jeanne. Learning to Read: The Great Debate. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983.
Flesch, Rudolf. Why Johnny Still Can't Read: A New Look at the Scandal of Our Schools. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.
Jacobs, Vicki A., and Luke E. Baldwin. The Reading Crisis: Why Poor Children Fall Behind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
Leonhardt, Mary. Parents Who Love Reading, Kids Who Don't. New York: Crown Publishers, 1993.
Lipson, Eden Ross. The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children. New York: Random House, 1988.
McClain, Joan Brooks, and Gillian Dowley McNamee. Early Literacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.
McCuen, Gary E. Illiteracy in America. Hudson, WI: GEM Publications, 1988.
Morrow, L. M. Literacy Development in the Early Years. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1993.
Rudman, Masha K., et al. For Love of Reading: A Parent's Guide to Encouraging Young Readers and Writers from Infancy through Age 5. New York: Consumer Reports Books, 1988.
Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook. 4th ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.
Vail, Priscilla L. Common Ground: Whole Language and Phonics Working Together. Rosemont, NJ: Modern Learning Press, 1991.
National Clearinghouse on Literacy Education
Address: 1118 22nd St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
Telephone: (202) 429-9292
Literacy Volunteers of America
Address: 5795 Widewaters Parkway
Syracuse, NY 13214
Telephone: (315) 445-8000
Project Literacy U.S. (PLUS)
Address: Box 2
4802 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
The National Center for Family Literacy
Address: Waterfront Plaza, Suite 200
325 W. Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202-4251
Telephone: (592) 584-1133
Reading Is Fundamental (RIF)
Address: 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20560
Telephone: (202) 287-3220
Reading Reform Foundation
Address: 7054 East Indian School
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Telephone: (602) 946-3567