In Catching Readers Before They Fall, Pat Johnson and Katie Keier explain on page 52 that “when proficient readers solve words, they do not depend solely on phonetics.” Instead, they use a combination of information sources:
“Meaning: Knowledge that includes any background knowledge, information gained from pictures in the text, or ideas gathered from the context of the sentence or story. Readers think about what makes sense.
Structure: Knowledge that comes from being familiar with spoken language, English structure, and how it sounds. Readers choose words that sound right.
Visual: Any letter/sound correspondence knowledge a person has. Readers check to see if the word looks right.” (53)
The authors go on to say: “When students are just beginning to learn to read, they are often unable to use all three sources of information simultaneously…” These early readers “need teachers who can… Show them how to integrate and balance meaning, structure, and visual information.” (53)
I was struck that this would seem to parallel the idea of strategic reading for comprehension: that proficient readers use a number of strategies, including looking at pictures, colour, font size, font colour, shapes, icons and clip art in order to make meaning.
Can this parallel be drawn: whether it is decoding or comprehending, real reading involves drawing meaning from a number of different sources?
Reading is a complex, multi-faceted process that requires a number of learned skills to operate simultaneously, nimbly and quickly, starting at the word level and working up to comprehension and beyond.
What implications does this have for my teaching?
If I put a text in front of a student, Johnson and Keier would seem to reinforce the idea that powerful learning happens when a teacher explicitly explains what is happening in a text as well as what strategy to use; models how they would navigate this text; and then gives students time to practice this type of reading to increase proficiency.
In one of her DVDs, Cris Tovani relates a story of when she informed one of her high school teachers that she wasn’t understanding a text, the teacher responded by saying “Well, just read harder” or “Read between the lines.” Being unfamiliar with the text as well as reading strategies, Tovani says she went back and looked between the lines of print and discovered that this white space yielded no meaning. It would appear, however, that it is incumbent upon me, as the teacher, to make learning visible by showing students reading strategies, including how to navigate a text.