Robots or Readers?

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Have you ever had a computer or phone read something for you on the screen?

creative E-learning Concept Book and Laptop 3d render

Creative E-learning Concept Book and Laptop 3d render

It’s a trick question. No, you haven’t.

Nobody else has either. That’s actually a misuse of the word READ.

It sure sounds like someone reading, but IT’S NOT READING. It’s robotic output of language-like noise. This reading-like noise might more accurately be referred to as SAYING the text. Capable readers make personal sense of text…appropriately for the circumstances in which it is read. Understanding makes READING valuable. Merely SAYING lacks any lasting value.

This distinction is important.

Phonics 1When learning phonics, kids learn to SAY individual words. Those who master phonics  may seem able to READ and the result of SAYING can certainly impress family members and garner positive attention from phonics tutors. However, when we adults react to such simple SAYING events as if they were READING events, we can create damaging confusion for kids about what reading is; we can imply that reading is mechanical and lacks personal importance.When new readers practice phonics by “sounding out” words they don’t know, and adults call that activity READING, children can lose sight of the entire point of books in our lives—joyful, fulfilling reading—which leads to a lifetime of avid reading and learning. So, SAYING text from technical articles or complex stories without making personal sense of the sentence or paragraph should NOT be called READING. To be perfectly clear with children and each other, we should call it reading when it includes understanding. If we are just sounding things out, we should clearly call it what it is…”SAYING.” That’s accurate and unambiguous.

READING also is social in how it impacts each of us. READING ALOUD, whether to ourselves or others, may sound like SAYING, but done right, it also includes all of the human dynamics of fluent speech:

Portrait Of Man Reading Book at a library

  • Stress – how emotionally loud or soft the word is said, even if just in our heads
  • Pitch – how high or low tones in our voices enliven an unfolding story or idea
  • Juncture – how readers pause, accelerate or slow down extending their sense of natural language and using the text’s punctuation to guide an approximate rendition of how the author might have said it aloud
  • Facial expressions and gestures.

Basically, avid readers, reading for themselves or for others, have to learn to humanize their READing. Otherwise all they are left with is a poor replacement for rich sense-making, merely rapid, accurate, robotic SAYing.

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