What's Important in Reading? (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010


Capable readers have larger vocabularies than less capable readers do (McKeown, 1985). They learn words at the amazing rate of 7 to 10 per day. Learning a word is developmental: Children move from recognizing that they’ve seen or heard the word before to learning one meaning, and then to knowing several ways to use the word (Allen, 1999). Vocabulary knowledge is important in reading because it’s easier to decode words that you’ve heard before, and it’s easier to comprehend what you’re reading when you’re already familiar with some words related to the topic.

Reading is the most effective way that students expand their vocabularies. Capable readers do more reading than less capable students, so they learn more words. Not only do they do more reading, but the books capable students read contain more age-appropriate vocabulary than the easier books that lower-performing students read (Stahl, 1999).


Readers use their past experiences and the text to construct comprehension, a meaning that’s useful for a specific purpose (Irwin, 1991). Comprehension is a complex process that involves both reader and text factors (Sweet & Snow, 2003). While they’re reading, readers are actively involved in thinking about what they already know about a topic. They set a purpose for reading, read strategically, and make inferences using cues in the text. Readers also use their knowledge about texts: They think about the genre and the topic of the text, and they use their knowledge of text structure to guide their reading.

Capable readers are strategic: They use predicting, visualizing, connecting, questioning, summarizing, and other strategies to think about and understand what they’re reading (Pressley, 2002). They also learn to monitor whether they’re comprehending and learn how to take action to solve problems and clarify confusions when they occur. Teaching comprehension involves introducing strategies through minilessons, demonstrating how capable readers use the strategies, and involving students in supervised practice activities.

Through these activities, teachers scaffold students and then gradually release responsibility for comprehending to students (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). Teachers withdraw support slowly once students show that they can use strategies independently while they’re reading. Of course, even when students are using strategies independently, they may need increased scaffolding when they’re reading more difficult texts, texts about unfamiliar topics, or different genres (Pardo, 2004).


Capable readers are motivated. They’re engaged while they’re reading and expect to be successful. Motivation is intrinsic; it involves feeling self-confident and viewing the activity as pleasurable (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2002). Students are more likely to be motivated when they’re reading high-interest texts, when they work collaboratively with classmates, when they have opportunities to make choices, when not everything is graded, and when they feel ownership of their work (Gallagher, 2003). Motivation isn’t something that teachers can force on students; instead, it’s an innate desire that students must develop themselves.

Teaching reading isn’t as easy as deciding whether to focus on phonics or comprehension. Teachers need to focus on all five factors so that students develop a bank of instantly recognizable words, become fluent readers, acquire an extensive vocabulary, learn to comprehend effectively, and stay motivated to become capable readers.

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