Basic Reading Processes

Reading is fairly effortless for most adults. However, it requires several perceptual and other cognitive processes, as well as a good knowledge of language and of grammar. Indeed, most mental activities are related to reading, and it is sometimes referred to as "visually guided thinking".

Why is it important to study reading? Skilled reading has much value in contemporary society, and adults without effective reading skills are at a great disadvantage. Thus, it is important to discover enough about reading processes to be able to sort out the problems of poor readers.

Some reading processes are concerned with identifying and extracting meaning from individual words. Other processes operate at the level of the phrase or sentence, and still others deal with the overall organisation or thematic structure of an entire story or book. However, research has focused on only some of these processes: "Scanning the literature on skilled reading, one could be forgiven for thinking that the goal of reading is to turn print into speech. Of course, it is not: the goal of reading is to understand (perhaps even to enjoy) a piece of text" (Ellis, 1993, p. 35).

Research methods

Several methods are available for studying reading. Probably the most generally useful method is that of recording eye movements during reading. This method has two particular strengths: (1) it provides a detailed on-line record of attention-related processes; and (2) it is unobtrusive. The only major restriction on readers whose eye movements are being recorded is that they should keep their heads fairly still. The main disadvantage is that it is hard to be sure precisely what processing occurs during each fixation.

Another method providing an on-line measure of reading involves recordings of people reading aloud. This method permits analysis of the type of errors made in reading, and the ways in which readers react to deliberate inaccuracies in the text (e.g., misspellings) can be assessed. However, there are three problems with this method. First, it is unnatural for most adults. Second, the fact that reading aloud is about half as fast as silent reading suggests there are substantial differences between the two forms of reading. Third, the eye-voice span (the distance the eye is ahead of the voice) is about two words, so some errors in reading aloud may reflect memorial errors rather than genuine reading errors.

A third method for studying reading involves a greater diversity of techniques than those considered so far. Rayner and Pollatsek (1989) referred to these tasks as word-identification techniques, because they assess the time taken for word identification. There is the lexical decision task (deciding whether a string of letters forms a word) and the naming task (saying a word out loud as rapidly as possible). The greatest advantage of word-identification techniques over eye movements is that they ensure that certain processing has been performed on a given word in a given time, whereas identification may not occur while a word is fixated. However, there are clear disadvantages. Normal reading processes are disrupted by the additional task, and it is not clear precisely what processes are reflected in lexical decision or naming times.

Balota, Paul, and Spieler (1999) argued that reading involves several kinds of processing: orthography (the spelling of words); phonology (the sound of words); word meaning; syntax; and higher-level discourse integration. Reading tasks vary in the emphasis they place on these kinds of processing. According to Balota et al. (1999, p. 47):

In naming, the attentional control system would increase the influence of the computations between orthography and phonology .the demands of lexical decision performance might place a high priority on the computations between orthographic and meaning level modules [processors]...if the goal. is reading comprehension, then attentional control would increase the priority of computations of the syntactic-, meaning-, and discourse-level modules.

It follows that performance on naming and lexical decision tasks may not accurately reflect normal reading processes.

Helping Your Child Learn To Read

Helping Your Child Learn To Read

When parents help their children learn to read, they help open the door to a new world. As a parent, you can begin an endless learning chain: You read to your children, they develop a love of stories and poems, they want to read on their own, they practice reading, and finally they read for their own information or pleasure. They become readers, and their world is forever expanded and enriched.

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