The Often Complex Process Of Reading English Language Essay

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Reading is often seen as a fairly simple process where a person reads text from left to right and from the top to the bottom while making meaning one word at a time. The process of reading is much more complex than this, and many theorists have presented models explaining what skills and knowledge they believe people need to possess in order to read effectively. Three mainstream theories of teaching Reading include the Psycholinguistic model, the Bottom-up model and the Socio-cultural model supported by Luke and Freebody (year 1990?).

The 'Psycholinguistic' Model:

The Psycholinguistic model of teaching Reading is also called the 'Top-down' model and the 'Inside-out' model. Goodman (1967), a theorist supporting this reading model, proposes that the reader is the major component of reading, as opposed to the Bottom-up model which focuses on the text. The Psycholinguistic model places importance on the reader making meaning from a text by relating it to their background and prior understandings. The more prior knowledge and experiences a reader has, the less dependence they will need to place on word order, language structures, and phonological concepts (week 1 ppt). Unlike the Bottom-up reading model, this theory focuses on the non-visual information that the reader has and suggests that, in order to read, one must have semantic, syntactic and grapho-phonic knowledge. Semantic information involves a reader's prior knowledge and understandings of the world and various concepts. Syntactic knowledge is the understanding of "word order and language structures" (week 1 ppt, p.?), and grapho-phonic information involves phonological concepts; an understanding of the alphabet and the sounds that various letters and letter combinations make (week 1 ppt).

The idea of relying on the reader's experiences and prior knowledge can also be seen as one of the biggest downfalls to this model. When presented with reading topics that are new to the reader, it is very difficult to make meaning of a text based solely on prior knowledge. For example, picture a young boy living in a secluded, poor village in Africa reading a text about Blu-Ray DVD's. The boy would likely have no knowledge or prior experience with this topic and so, according to this model, would not be able to make meaning of the text (slideshare).

The 'Bottom-Up' Model:

The Bottom-Up Reading theory is also known as the 'Skills Model' and the 'Outside-in' theory. According to this Reading theory, beginner readers obtain a number of sub-skills that build towards understanding and comprehension. This theory suggests that readers passively receive information from a text and that it is their job to reproduce the meaning that already exists in the text. Visual information is the beginning point of the Bottom-Up Reading theory and involves interpreting written symbols into spoken language (McCarthy, 1999 - www.teachingenglish) or (Nunan, 1991). Reading, according to this theory, involves recognising letters before recognising sounds, before recognising words, before recognising sentences, before finally making meaning of a text (week 1 ppt). "It is essentially a decoding or skills approach based on the relationship between sounds and written symbols" (week 1 ppt).

One downfall of this theory is that it doesn't take into account the contributions a reader can bring to the process such as prior understandings and knowledge. It fails to recognise the need for the reader to use their previous experiences in order to make predictions and to have expectations whist reading. This process focuses on the text whereas the Psycholinguistic model focuses on the reader; two factors that are not enough by themselves (www.slideshare).

The 'Socio-Cultural' Model:

The Socio-Cultural model of teaching Reading, supported by Luke & Freebody (year), recognises the importance of both the reader and the text in the reading process. In this model, importance is placed equally on both the text and the reader (nadabs). Unlike the psycholinguistic and bottom-up models, the Socio-cultural theory relies on both the visual and non-visual aspects of reading and not just on one of these factors (www.slideshare). An attempt is made to combine the positive aspects of both the Psycholinguistic and Bottom-up models, whilst also trying to eliminate the negatives (McCormick, 1988). As a result of this, the Socio-cultural reading model focuses on the importance of prior knowledge while recognising the fact that certain skills are also necessary (www.slideshare). This Reading theory consists of four Roles of the Reader which include the Code Breaker, the Text Participant, the Text User and the Text Analysis. The code breaker involves decoding visual information such as letter-sound understanding. Text participant involves creating meaning from the text by using prior knowledge and experiences. Text user involves knowing the purpose of a text and how to use it, for example, a recipe, comprehension or birthday card, and Text analysis involves working out what the author is trying to do to you, for example, underlying intentions and biases (week 1 ppt). According to this socio-cultural model, a reader is required to successfully perform each of these four roles in order to become effective readers.

Most effective model to use in the classroom:

The Socio-Cultural model is the most promising teaching Reading theory as it tries to incorporate the positive components and eliminate the negative components of both the psycholinguistic and the Bottom-up Reading theories. This model, therefore, is arguably the most effective theory to be used in the classroom as it recognises the importance of both the Reader and the text. According to Eskey (1988), a good read is someone who is able to decode and interpret readings in an increasingly automatic manner. They attempt to identify the purpose and the form of a text before reading it, continually making predictions about what will happen next based on personal experiences and information learned earlier. Effective readers also try to form a summary of what they have read by using skills such as classifying, sequencing, hypothesising, predicting, inferring, comparing and contrasting (www.teachingenglish).

The socio-cultural reading model tries to present a balanced view of the reading process and recognises the importance of teaching children phonics and other necessary skills, while noting that phonics by itself is not enough. Students need to be able to do more than just 'say' a written sentence; they also need to try to make meaning of it. According to this model, students should be given plenty of opportunities to practice each of the following four roles of the reader; Code-breaker, Text-participant, Text-user and Text-analysis (Winch et al., 2001, p.58). They need to learn to 'say' the words, create meaning from these words, know the purpose of each text and how to use it, and finally, learn to recognise how a text is positioning them. According to this Socio-cultural reading model, students are effective readers once they have become proficient at each of these four reading roles (Winch et al, 2001).

Classroom practice examples:

Effective teaching is necessary in order to nurture students to become effective readers. Reading lessons must be carefully planned, prepared and monitored to ensure that high level learning is occurring in the classroom. The activities a teacher chooses to assist in any Reading lesson must encourage students to learn necessary skills and to perform each of the four roles of the reader. Activities must provide students with frequent opportunities to read, teach them phonological skills, and help them to understand the structure of verbal and written words. Effective teachers will model effective reading to their students in a fun, positive manner by using props, acting, strong expression and variations in speed, pitch and volume to ensure that students see the process as enjoyable.

Shared reading or modelled reading is one activity that teachers should incorporate into their Reading teaching program. It is usually a whole-class activity structured to demonstrate effective reading to the students. Teachers will often use a big book that all students can see and will follow a somewhat structured procedure. Before reading the book, an effective Reading teacher will try to build up their students' semantic knowledge about the topic of the book so that students are able to relate text to mental pictures. This could be done by taking students on an excursion, drawing/painting pictures, watching a video or through writing activities. When first introducing a big book, the teacher should ensure that it is visible to all students and should encourage children to suggest what they think the book might be about. The teacher then reads through the entire book with limited stops as this first reading is usually for the enjoyment of the children. Following readings are more interactive and require students to join in on repetitive parts and answer questions about the storyline, characters, punctuation and structure. They are also followed up with activities to help support learning and encourage understanding. Shared reading helps to build sight word knowledge, increases reading fluency, provides opportunities for struggling readers to enjoy books they otherwise would not, and ensures that all students have a feeling of success as the whole class is supported (WETA - http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/shared_reading).

Guided reading is another effective strategy to use in the classroom. This differs to shared reading in that students are placed in groups of similar reading ability and are given their own book to look at.The book should be introduced in a similar manner to shared reading, with attention being paid to the front cover, author and illustrator. Each students should be given the opportunity to read a designated section out loud, however, teachers should be careful not to set a child up for failure by asking a struggling reader to read a large, difficult portion of the book. Techniques should be available for students to use in order to overcome reading difficulties such as with phonics, grammar and meaning. Students should be required to take on the four roles of the reader by answering pre-prepared questions by the teacher. After a guided reading session, students should re-read the book with a partner and then take the book home to read to their parents. Again, follow-up activities are to be used in order to reinforce new learning such as sequencing activities or 'memory' where repetitive words are written on pieces of card/paper and students are required to find two matching words (Winch, et al., 2001). Guided reading is effective as it allows children to read and comprehend books at their own level, instead of struggling to read books that are too difficult and where students are unable to make meaning of the text.

Another effective activity to use when teaching Reading to students is called 'The language experience approach' which uses events that have occurred in the students' life in order to create texts. Students verbally share an experience which is written down either by the student or with the help from the teacher. These stories then become meaningful texts for reading and further activities as they are written at the students' level and often reflect common every day experiences. The language experience approach is an effective strategy as it is learner-centred and shows students that their thoughts and experiences are valued. It also creates texts that are readable and predictable as it uses language that is common to the students (McCormick, 1988).

Reading is a very complex cognitive process and involves both the text and the semantics of the reader. The Psycholinguistic and Bottom-up models both acknowledge some important elements of the reading process, however, the Socio-cultural model is more effective as it attempts to combine the positive and eliminate the negative aspects of each. Effective teaching is of great importance in order to help students to become competent readers. By providing students with valuable reading activities and experiences, and encouraging them to take on the four roles of the reader, teachers are setting students up with the essential skills and understandings to becoming effective readers.

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