Reading. What’s It to You?

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Teachers and parents might get confused by research reports that claim to focus upon reading, even research reported by highly respected scholars. One problem is the varied definitions of reading that editorial boards seem to ignore in their constant efforts to find solid studies on literacy to publish.

“Reading” has many possible definitions, and each definition has value in certain contexts, but each definition also must be clearly understood.

In one case of scholarship, reading is defined as the accurate pronunciation of nonsense words (meaningless, but looking like real words). Instead of calling this “saying nonsense words,” this act is referred to as “reading.”  Reading 4

In another case reading is gauged by the rate at which children correctly pronounce real words in a passage that the children may or may not care about reading. Some studies call this reading fluency; others refer to this as reading speed.

In still another case, reading is meant to describe children engaging with text and illustrations to fully and deeply understand an author’s message and its personal significance, but presents it as comprehension instead of reading.

When we encounter assertions in conversations or commentary about schools and educational practices that focus upon reading research proving X or demonstrating support for Y, how are we to know which definition of the term “reading” was under consideration? In short, which definition or application of reading should each of us actually pay attention to and which should be tossed on our personal scrap piles labeled “beside the point” or “meaningless?” It turns out that this consideration depends upon the appropriate audiences for such statements and we’d all be just fine if we determined which audiences we were part of and which do not include us in their interests.

Reading 1

My focus is normally upon the last definition mentioned above. That is, the kind of reading that most of us do, most of the time: reading for our own purposes and enjoyments. This definition blurs or even eliminates MY connections with large numbers of publications of and about research studies and commentary purporting to be about reading.

It is up to each teacher and parent to attend to research or policy pronouncements to hold the presenter’s feet to the fire with regards to precisely what definition is in play.

Questions surround this search. Are we addressing:

Issues that guide parents and teachers to directly and positively impact children developing as eager, lifelong readers?


Engineering a marked jump in average test scores for a grade, school or school system?


Speaking merely to a small subset of fellow researchers?

These are not compatible interests for most, and efforts to enhance one will potentially harm the others. One is focused upon each child’s lifetime relations with books and learning, while others apply a laser focus upon a school year or grade level or a researcher’s study design.

Each of these is important for political or personal reasons.

Each of these is immaterial for those with other concerns.

Reading 2Careful consumers of writings and pronouncements about the range of issues in literacy learning must themselves become critical in their use of the word “reading.

It’s important for all of us.



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