The ability to read is just one of the many awesome things that the human brain is capable of. Recognizing words and associating them with meaning is a process that the brain does with lightning speed. However, reading ability varies from person to person. There are bad readers, and there are good readers.
Naturally, we all want to become sophisticated readers. An article by P.M. Cunningham for Education.com gives us an idea how good readers read words, citing studies conducted by experts over the years.
1. Good readers virtually read every word and every letter
Most of us are under the impression that good readers only scan any given text, but good readers actually look at every word and almost every letter of each word at astonishing speeds. This has been proven by eye-movement research that made use of computerized tracking.
2. Good readers recode printed words into sound
That means good readers almost always say the words out loud or at least think the words in their minds. Then they check this phonological information with the visual aspect of the words until they come up with familiar spelling patterns. It also helps them keep an auditory memory until meaning is created after reading enough words.
3. Good readers can automatically identify words without using context
Using context to make sense of what one is reading is definitely a mark of a good reader. However, Cunningham cites several studies that show that most of the time, good readers identify words through their familiar spelling and their association with a pronunciation. After that would be the time they use context. It’s interesting to note that poor readers have actually been shown to be more reliant on context than good readers.
4. Good readers can effortlessly pronounce unfamiliar but phonetically regular words
When they encounter a new word they don’t know how to pronounce, good readers have no problem assigning them pronunciations that tend to be accurate, as long as the words are phonetically regular.
5. Good readers decode words through spelling patterns and analogy
Cunnigham cites studies that show that when the brain tries to decode a word, it tries to recognize a spelling pattern that’s familiar. When that isn’t the case, it will then resort to searching its store of words that carry similar patterns.
6. Good readers divide big words using interletter frequencies
The brain has an interletter frequency knowledge based on its entire vocabulary. When faced with a big word, good readers use this knowledge to divide that big word into parts. Then they compare the letter patterns of those parts until they come up with the right pronunciation.
With all this knowledge about how good readers read words, we parents can only hope that educators can come up with strategies for teaching reading built upon these conclusions of experts over the years. We all want our children to become good readers, after all, and good strategies for teaching reading can help them reach that goal.
Read the article in full here.