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Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols for the intention of deriving meaning (reading comprehension) and/or constructing meaning. Written information is received by the retina, processed by the primary visual cortex, and interpreted in Wernicke's area.

Reading is a means of language acquisition, of communication, and of sharing information and ideas.

Readers use a variety of reading strategies to assist with decoding (to translate symbols into sounds or visual representations of speech) and comprehension. Readers may use morpheme, semantics, syntax and context clues to identify the meaning of unknown words. Readers integrate the words they have read into their existing framework of knowledge or schema (schemata theory).

Other types of reading are not speech based writing systems, such as music notation or pictograms. The common link is the interpretation of symbols to extract the meaning from the visual notations.

Reading text is now an important way for the general population in many societies to access information and make meaning.

Overview[edit | edit source]

Currently most reading is of the printed word from ink on paper: a book, magazine, newspaper, leaflet, or notebook. Handwritten text may also consist of graphite from a pencil. More recently, text is read from computer displays, television, and other displays, such as mobile phones or ereaders. Short texts may be written or painted on an object.

Often the text relates to the object, such as an address on an envelope, product info on packaging, or text on a traffic or street sign. A slogan may be painted on a wall. A text may also be produced by arranging stones of a different color in a wall or road. Short texts like these are sometimes referred to as environmental print.

Sometimes text or images are in relief, with or without using a color contrast. Words or images can be carved in stone, wood, or metal; instructions can be printed in relief on the plastic housing of an home appliance, or a myriad of other examples.

Chalk on a blackboard is often used for classroom settings.

A requirement for reading is a good contrast between letters and background (depending on colors of letters and background, any pattern or image in the background, and lighting) and a suitable font size. In the case of a computer screen, not having to scroll horizontally is important.

The field of visual word recognition studies how people read individual words. A key technique in studying how individuals read text is eye tracking. This has revealed that reading is performed as a series of eye fixations with saccades between them. Humans also do not appear to fixate on every word in a text, but instead fixate to some words while apparently filling in the missing information using context. This is possible because human languages show certain linguistic regularities.

The process of recording information to be read later is writing. In the case of computer and microfiche storage there is the separate step of displaying the written text. For humans, reading is usually faster and easier than writing.

Reading is typically an individual activity, although on occasion a person will read out loud for the benefit of other listeners. Reading aloud for one's own use, for better comprehension, is a form of intrapersonal communication. Reading to young children is a recommended way to instill language and expression, and to promote comprehension of text. Before the reintroduction of separated text in the late Middle Ages, the ability to read silently was considered rather remarkable. See Alberto Manguel (1996) A History of Reading. New York: Viking. The relevant chapter (2) is posted on line here.

Medium[edit | edit source]

See also: Writing

Short messages can be put on (and read from) various media (including plastic, wood, stone, metal, etc.; the text can be written with ink or paint, or it may have been cut out, etc.). Longer texts such as books, magazines, newspapers, etc. are often available on paper (with printed text) or in electronic form on a computer storage device. In the latter case it may be read from an electronic screen; sometimes the user prints it to read it from paper.

Reading skills[edit | edit source]

Literacy is the ability to read and write; illiteracy is usually caused by not having had the opportunity to learn these concepts. Dyslexia refers to a difficulty with reading and writing. The term dyslexia can refer to two disorders: developmental dyslexia is a learning disability; alexia or acquired dyslexia refers to reading difficulties that occur following brain damage.

Major predictors of an individual's ability to read both alphabetic and nonalphabetic scripts are phonological awareness, rapid automatized naming and verbal IQ.[1]

Skill development[edit | edit source]


Main article: Reading education

Other methods of teaching and learning to read have developed, and become somewhat controversial[2]:

Phonics involves teaching reading by associating characters or groups of characters with sounds. Sometimes argued to be in competition with whole language methods.
Whole language 
Whole language methods involve acquiring words or phrases without attention to the characters or groups of characters that compose them. Sometimes argued to be in competition with phonics methods, and that the whole language approach tends to impair learning how to spell.

Learning to read in a second language, especially in adulthood, may be a different process than learning to read a native language in childhood.

There are cases of very young children learning to read without having been taught.[3] Such was the case with Truman Capote who reportedly taught himself to read and write at the age of five. There are also accounts of people who taught themselves to read by comparing street signs or Biblical passages to speech. The novelist Nicholas Delbanco taught himself to read at age six by studying a book about boats during a transatlantic crossing.

Methods[edit | edit source]


Reading is an intensive process in which the eye quickly moves to assimilate text. Very little is actually seen accurately. It is necessary to understand visual perception and eye movement in order to understand the reading process.[4]

There are several types and methods of reading, with differing rates that can be attained for each, for different kinds of material and purposes:

  • Subvocalized reading combines sight reading with internal sounding of the words as if spoken. Advocates of speed reading claim it can be a bad habit that slows reading and comprehension, but other studies indicate the reverse, particularly with difficult texts.[5][6]
  • Speed reading is a collection of methods for increasing reading speed without an unacceptable reduction in comprehension or retention. It is closely connected to speed learning.
  • PhotoReading is a collection of speed reading techniques with an additional technique of photoreading to increase reading speed and comprehension and retention.
  • Proofreading is a kind of reading for the purpose of detecting typographical errors. One can learn to do it rapidly, and professional proofreaders typically acquire the ability to do so at high rates, faster for some kinds of material than for others, while they may largely suspend comprehension while doing so, except when needed to select among several possible words that a suspected typographic error allows.
  • Structure-Proposition-Evaluation (SPE) method, popularized by Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book, mainly for non-fiction treatise, in which one reads a writing in three passes: (1) for the structure of the work, which might be represented by an outline; (2) for the logical propositions made, organized into chains of inference; and (3) for evaluation of the merits of the arguments and conclusions. This method involves suspended judgment of the work or its arguments until they are fully understood.
  • Survey-Question-Read-Recite-Review (SQ3R) method, often taught in public schools, which involves reading toward being able to teach what is read, and would be appropriate for instructors preparing to teach material without having to refer to notes during the lecture.
  • Multiple Intelligences-based methods, which draw upon the reader's diverse ways of thinking and knowing to enrich his or her appreciation of the text. Reading is fundamentally a linguistic activity: one can basically comprehend a text without resorting to other intelligences, such as the visual (e.g., mentally "seeing" characters or events described), auditory (e.g., reading aloud or mentally "hearing" sounds described), or even the logical intelligence (e.g., considering "what if" scenarios or predicting how the text will unfold based on context clues). However, most readers already use several intelligences while reading, and making a habit of doing so in a more disciplined manner -- i.e., constantly, or after every paragraph -- can result in more vivid, memorable experience.
  • Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) reading involves presenting the words in a sentence one word at a time at the same location on the display screen, at a specified eccentricity. RSVP eliminates inter-word saccades, limits intra-word saccades, and prevents reader control of fixation times (Legge, Mansfield, & Chung, 2001). RSVP controls for differences in reader eye movement, and consequently is often used to measure reading speed in experiments.

Assessment[edit | edit source]

Reading rate[edit | edit source]


Further information: Speed reading, English language learning and teaching, and Proofreading
File:Reading speed by age.jpg

Average reading rate in words per minute (wpm) depending on age and measured with different tests in English, French and German.

Note: the data from Taylor (English) and Landerl (German) are based on texts of increasing difficulty; other data were obtained when all age groups were reading the same text.

Rates of reading include reading for memorization (fewer than 100 words per minute [wpm]); reading for learning (100–200 wpm); reading for comprehension (200–400 wpm); and skimming (400–700 wpm). Reading for comprehension is the essence of the daily reading of most people. Skimming is for superficially processing large quantities of text at a low level of comprehension (below 50%).

Advice for choosing the appropriate reading-rate includes reading flexibly, slowing when concepts are closely presented, and when the material is new, and increasing when the material is familiar and of thin concept. Speed reading courses and books often encourage the reader to continually accelerate; comprehension tests lead the reader to believe his or her comprehension is continually improving; yet, competence-in-reading requires knowing that skimming is dangerous, as a default habit.

Reading speed requires a long time to reach adult levels. The table to the right shows how reading-rate varies with age [7], regardless of the period (1965 to 2005) and the language (English, French, German). The Taylor values probably are higher, for disregarding students who failed the comprehension test. The reading test by the french psychologist Pierre Lefavrais ("L'alouette", published in 1967) tested reading aloud, with a penalty for errors, and could, therefore, not be a rate greater than 150 wpm. According to Carver (1990), children's reading speed increases throughout the school years. On average, from grade 2 to college, reading rate increases 14 standard-length words per minute each year (where one standard-length word is defined as six characters in text, including punctuation and spaces).

Types of tests[edit | edit source]

  • Sight word reading: reading words of increasing difficulty until they become unable to read or understand the words presented to them. Difficulty is manipulated by using words that have more letters or syllables, are less common and have more complicated spelling-sound relationships.
  • Nonword reading: reading lists of pronounceable nonsense words out loud. The difficulty is increased by using longer words, and also by using words with more complex spelling or sound sequences.
  • Reading comprehension: a passage is presented to the reader, which they must read either silently or out loud. Then a series of questions are presented that test the reader's comprehension of this passage.
  • Reading fluency: the rate with which individuals can name words.
  • Reading accuracy: the ability to correctly name a word on a page.

Some tests incorporate several of the above components at once. For instance, the Nelson-Denny Reading Test scores readers both on the speed with which they can read a passage, and also their ability to accurately answer questions about this passage.

Effects[edit | edit source]

Lighting[edit | edit source]

Reading from paper and from some screens requires more lighting than many other activities. Therefore, the possibility of doing this comfortably in cafés, restaurants, buses, at bus stops or in parks greatly varies depending on available lighting and time of day. Starting in the 1950s, many offices and classrooms were over-illuminated. Since about 1990, there has been a movement to create reading environments with appropriate lighting levels (approximately 600 to 800 lux).

Reading from screens which produce their own light is less dependent on external light, except that this may be easier with little external light. For controlling what is on the screen (scrolling, turning the page, etc.), a touch screen or keyboard illumination further reduces the dependency on external light.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Powell D, Stainthorp R, Stuart M, Garwood H, Quinlan P. (2007). An experimental comparison between rival theories of rapid automatized naming performance and its relationship to reading. J Exp Child Psychol. 98(1):46-68. PMID 17555762
  2. Facts and fads in beginning reading: a cross-language perspective(1998), ppgs.
  3. Learning From Children Who Read at an Early Age(1999), ppgs.
  4. Im Auge des Lesers, foveale und periphere Wahrnehmung: vom Buchstabieren zur Lesefreude(2006), ppgs.
  5. Moidel, Steve. Speed Reading for Business, 23–24, Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational.
  6. Rayner, Keith (1995). The Psychology of Reading, Pollatsek, Alexander, 192–194, London: Routledge.
  7. Im Auge des Lesers, foveale und periphere Wahrnehmung: vom Buchstabieren zur Lesefreude(2006), ppgs. 117.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Carver, R.P. (1990). Reading rate: A review of research and theory, San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Feitelson, Dina (1988). Facts and Fads in Beginning Reading: A Cross-Language Perspective, Norwood, New Jersey, United States: Ablex.
  • Legge, G.E., Mansfield, J.S., & Chung, S.T.L.C. (2001). Psychophysics of reading. XX. Linking letter recognition to reading speed in central and peripheral vision. Vision Research, 41, 725-743.
  • Stainthorp, Rhona; Diana Hughes (1999). Learning From Children Who Read at an Early Age, Routledge.
  • Hunziker, Hans-Werner (2006). Im Auge des Lesers foveale und periphere Wahrnehmung: vom Buchstabieren zur Lesefreude (In the eye of the reader: foveal and peripheral perception - from letter recognition to the joy of reading) (in German), Transmedia Zurich.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Bulling, A. et al.: Robust Recognition of Reading Activity in Transit Using Wearable Electrooculography, Proc. of the 6th International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Pervasive 2008), Sydney, Australia, pp. 19-37, Springer, May 2008.
  • Briggs A., Burke P. (2002) MAS 214, Macquarie University, A Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the. Internet, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • National Endowment for the Arts (June 2004). "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America" (pdf)
  • Littlefield, Jamie (2006). "Promote Reading: Share Books" Retrieved June 20, 2006.
  • Shaywitz, S. E. et al.: Evidence that dyslexia may represent the lower tail of a normal distribution of reading ability. The New England Journal of Medicine 326 (1992)145-150.
  • Bainbridge, J. and Malicky, G. 2000. Constructing Meaning: Balancing Elementary Language Arts. Toronto: Harcourt.
  • Ontario Ministry of Education, 2003. Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading. Toronto: Queen's Printer for Ontario.
  • Gipe, J. 2002. Multiple Paths to Literacy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

External links[edit | edit source]

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