How Good Readers Read (page 2)
Most adults would say that they want children to be good readers. What is a good reader? Can we get some clues about how to create good readers by examining one? Mandy is one such example. Her teachers in sixth grade describe her as an exceptional student and a fluent reader. Mandy likes to read and spends much time with library books. She often chooses reading over other activities. When she is reading, Mandy is oblivious to everything else around her. Her younger sisters and brothers get upset because they can’t get her attention away from her books. Good readers freely choose to read and tend to concentrate as they read.
This year Mandy is reading horse stories. She got hooked on Farley’s Black Stallion series, and when she finished with those books, she started reading every other horse story she could find. Although she doesn’t have a horse and rarely has been on one, Mandy knows about horses from her reading. When she reads, Mandy can pretend that she owns a horse that carries her galloping over sand dunes or green meadows. Mandy’s cousin, David, is reading another type of book—the Harry Potter brand of reading excitement. Both Mandy and David read mainly for pleasure. David’s brother, Michael, however, has always chosen to read for information. Michael became an expert on marine mammals through his reading in elementary school, and then in junior high he switched to reading about hunting and camping. He uses the information he has gathered from reading for his weekend expeditions. Good readers find pleasure and purpose in their reading.
As we watch Mandy read, her eyes flash across and down the page. How can she possibly see every word, let alone every letter on the page? The truth is that she doesn’t. If she were to read slowly enough to see each letter, the process would be so laborious that she would not find pleasure in reading and would not often choose to read. If she had learned to read by thinking that she was supposed to sound out each letter and blend words together, she might have continued to look at each letter and never have become a good reader.
What about reading all the words? Mandy knows exactly what the story is about; she can tell you details and will speculate excitedly about what might happen next. But she does not labor over individual words. If she comes to a word she doesn’t know, she usually can skip over it and still get the meaning from the rest of the sentence. After a few times of skipping over the same word and getting meaning from the context in that manner, she has an idea of what the word means even if it isn’t part of her general vocabulary. If the printed word is part of her spoken vocabulary, she eventually figures it out using strategies that combine graphophonemic clues and/or syntactic clues with semantic clues related to the meaning of what she reads. Mandy makes predictions about what she reads, self-corrects, rereads, and asks questions if necessary as she adjusts her reading when comprehension breaks down.
When Mandy reads something at an easier level so that she knows all the words, she can really fly. She isn’t aware of the physical process, but her eye often identifies the words merely from their general outline, or configuration. These configuration clues serve as shortcuts to identifying sight words, thus increasing reading speed and fluency. An observer might describe Mandy as a youngster who doesn’t see most of the letters or many of the words she reads and even reads books with words that she doesn’t know. Is Mandy typical of good readers? Research tells us yes (K. S. Goodman, 1996; Miller, 2002). Self-regulated readers use a variety of reading strategies and monitor their own comprehension as they read (Pressley, 1999). Knowing what skilled readers do when they read must guide our teaching practices (Ashby & Rayner, 2006; Miller, 2002).
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