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What is Reading?

"Reading" is the process of looking at a series of written symbols and getting meaning from them. When we read, we use our eyes to receive written symbols (letters, punctuation marks and spaces) and we use our brain to convert them into words, sentences and paragraphs that communicate something to us.


Reading can be silent (in our head) or aloud (so that other people can hear).


Reading is a receptive skill - through it we receive information. But the complex process of reading also requires the skill of speaking, so that we can pronounce the words that we read. In this sense, reading is also a productive skill in that we are both receiving information and transmitting it (even if only to ourselves).


The Reading Process


Reading is a process that involves recognizing words, leading to the development of comprehension. According to research, reading is a process that negotiates the meaning between the text and its reader. The reading process involves three stages.


The first is the pre-reading stage, which allows the reader to activate background knowledge, preview the text, and develop a purpose for reading. A strategy for students to utilize during this stage is to look at the title of the selection and list all the information that comes to mind about the title.


The second stage occurs during reading, when the reader makes predictions as they read and then confirms or revises the predictions. For example, double-entry journal enable the reader to write the text from the reading on one side and their personal reaction on the other side.


Why do we read?


There are a number of reasons why we read, and this will often influence what we read and how we read it. We might read for pleasure. In this case it is most likely that we will be reading a book of some sort – maybe a novel, or perhaps a poem. We could also be reading the lyrics to a song, so our reasons for reading it may be slightly more complex than simply for pleasure. We could be reading it because we have heard the song but didn’t quite catch the words. Or perhaps our children are listening to it, but we are worried that some of the lyrics might not be suitable. Or perhaps we want to be able to sing along, so we’re trying to learn the words (maybe so we can impress our friends).


In other words, there are multiple reasons why someone might read a text. But working out the purpose is a key factor when it comes to teaching reading. Why we are reading something will make a difference to how we read it and in what depth. So, a mother checking whether the lyrics of a song are suitable for her children to hear will most likely be looking through the text for particular words or phrases she thinks are inappropriate. On the other hand, someone trying to learn the lyrics by heart will probably read the same lines a number of times (and may even read them out loud to try and reinforce the words).


We must also bear in mind the purpose of the text from the writer’s point of view. Texts don’t exist in a vacuum; somebody wrote the text and they had a reason for doing so. It could be that the writer’s and the reader’s reasons are the same, or similar. But it is equally possible that the two have different purposes. The writer has a message they want to convey, and they encode this message in the words and style they choose. The reader then tries to decode the message by reading the same words. This encoding and decoding doesn’t simply exist on the level of meaning, but also on the level of why the text was written.


The final stage occurs after reading and allows the reader to retell the story, discuss the elements of a story, answer questions and/or compare it to another text. For example, students can create summaries, where they take a huge selection and reduce it to its main points for more concise understanding.


Comprehension is an intentional, active, and interactive process that occurs before, during and after a person reads a particular piece of writing.