Literacy in learning to read
One common definition of reading is finding out the meaning of written language. This definition says nothing about the purpose of reading. To achieve goals, you must be able to understand the texts you use for this. A reader uses knowledge for this purpose. To be able to (learn to) read properly, you need knowledge about reading. This knowledge about reading can be divided into two types of knowledge: knowledge of language and knowledge of the world.
The importance of reading
In order to be a part of society in a good way, without being dependent on others, it is important that you can understand many different texts.
In the Netherlands there is still a large percentage of functionally illiterate, or low-literate people. These people have a much less extensive knowledge of the world, because access to written information is less accessible to them. To avoid this problem, it is important that primary school children are as literate as possible.
The level of the children varies enormously. This is due to both the quality and the quantity of their literacy when they enter primary school. How much is spoken with the children at home and how this is done differs per child. The way this is done reflects the quality; the language offer, the language space and the feedback the children receive. This also applies to reading.
Because of these large differences, it is important that the teacher pays attention to this. Otherwise, the child will never become as literate as he possibly can be.
Not being able to read well means having difficulty learning and gaining new knowledge. For every subject in primary school, you need reading.
There can be several causes for inability to read properly. It may be due to inadequate linguistic knowledge or not having sufficient world knowledge. It can also be caused by using all knowledge in the wrong way.
The purpose of reading
People who read want to understand what they are learning in order to achieve other goals.
When people read at home, they often read to find out, to have fun, or to perform an action. They choose what they read about themselves and discuss the read text with others.
At school, children often receive texts that they have not chosen themselves. The lyrics seem to be there only to answer questions or to practice strategies. This does not motivate the children to read.
The PIRIS research mentions three reasons why it is important to understand texts:
- To be able to learn;
- To participate in society;
- To enjoy life.
The following models show what happens when reading insightfully:
- Bottom-up model;
- Top-down model;
- Interactive model.
The bottom-up model
This model is based on the idea that reading progresses from lower-order processes to higher-order processes. The lower order processes involve letter and word recognition and the higher order processes involve understanding. The letters and words are recognized by using distinctive features of those letters. This information is then linked to a sound. Only then can a meaning be assigned to the word.
The top-down model
This model is based on the idea that reading proceeds from higher order processes to lower order processes. Based on visual information, the reader activates his previously acquired knowledge. He can apply this knowledge in the further course of the sentence or text.
The interactive model
This model assumes that the lower-order processes and the higher-order processes influence each other. A process by which someone can recognize a word ensures that understanding comes about more easily, while higher-order processes lead to that recognition more quickly.
Knowledge of the language
Knowledge of language can be divided into five areas:
- Orthographic knowledge & phonological knowledge;
- Morphological knowledge;
- Semantic knowledge;
- Syntactic knowledge;
- Textual knowledge & pragmatic knowledge.
Orthographic knowledge and phonological knowledge
A reader needs letter knowledge and he needs to know how the letters are expressed. A young child already has a lot of knowledge about possible sound combinations. Visual signs are associated with this when learning to read. The reader will soon realize which sequence of letters and letter combinations are possible.
This knowledge promotes the ability to infer the meaning of an unknown word. The reader can try to find out the meaning of the whole word by reducing the unknown word to known elements.
A reader must be able to put the meaning of a word in the correct context. A word can have several meanings, depending on that context.
The order of word parts and the relationship that is thus established between the words is important in order to be able to assign the correct meaning.
Textual knowledge and pragmatic knowledge
A reader who has knowledge of text types, which functions text types have and can recognize text types, is better able to make a text choice for a reading goal that he has.
Knowledge of the world
Knowledge of the language is not always sufficient to understand the text you are reading. If you are reading a text on a specialist subject, with a lot of theoretical text, you must have sufficient knowledge of the subject in question. This creates an understanding of the text.
The kind of text you need to interpret these sentences is called knowledge of the world. The more knowledge you have, the more prior knowledge you can activate and the easier it becomes to understand texts. Language users usually estimate the prior knowledge of their conversation partner, or their reader adjusts their story accordingly.
You can expand your knowledge of the world by reading a lot and by getting into situations where you can or should do something with what you have read.
Using knowledge in reading
Understanding what you are reading starts with absorbing visual information. The information is stored in memory, but due to limited storage capacity, it is possible that the information may be lost. Fast word recognition facilitates the recording of information, which can be stored in long-term memory. The use of knowledge before, during and after reading is strategic reading mentioned.