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Reading is a complex process. The early grades focus on decoding and recognizing words. The words are then strung into sentences, paragraphs, and longer passages. The student is supposed to have silent reading comprehension by reading at the rate of natural speech while simultaneously processing the same information.
The Ultimate Goal of Reading Instruction is Silent Reading Comprehension
There are three main factors that contribute to successful silent reading comprehension.
Word identification is the ability to recognize printed words. Words can be decoded or recognized by sight.
Whole-Text Print Processing
Whole-Text Print Processing includes many sub-skills. One of the most recognized sub-skills is reading fluency. Additional critical skills include:
- The ability visually track the printed text in the proper sequence without losing one’s place.
- The ability to hold words and phrases read within the memory system long enough to synthesize meaning.
- The ability to interpret syntax and grammar from written language and project the intended stress and intonation patterns to one’s mind through the inner voice. In simpler terms, as you read the text, you hear the printed words as thoughts just like you would hear someone speaking.
There are 3 factors influencing language comprehension.
- An individual must understand the meaning of words in isolation.
- The individual must understand how syntax and grammar impact the meaning of phrases and sentences.
- The individual must have sufficient prior knowledge and pre-requisite skills to understand the content of the communication.
For most native speakers, numbers 1 and 2 will not be an issue with grade level texts.* Number 3 is more likely the culprit.
For example, have you ever read a difficult text and had no idea what it meant? If I put a paragraph in from one of my old multivariate statistic classes, I think you would quickly get the idea. Most of my readers would not have the pre-requisite content knowledge required to understand an advanced statistics text.
Similarly, having prior knowledge about a topic will greatly aid in comprehension. I heard someone tell a story about how they passed an oral exam in a foreign language. They had previously heard a lecture on the educational system in that country. The instructor discussed the education system during the final exam. Students were than required to answer questions about what he said. The woman who had prior knowledge was able to figure out what he was talking about and answer the questions accurately, even though she did not understand everything he said.
Silent reading comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading instruction. Word identification, processing, and language comprehension all impact an individual’s silent reading comprehension skills.
*Some populations (e.g., autistic individuals who also have a language delay) may have difficulty understanding oral language. The printed word can serve as a visual basis to teach language comprehension. While the student is learning to recognize words and phrases, the teacher can also provide instruction as to what those mean using pictures, photographs, matching activities, and other learning tasks.