Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols in order to construct or derive meaning . . . It is a means of language acquisition, of communication, and of sharing information and ideas. . . it is a complex interaction between the text and the reader which is shaped by the reader’s prior knowledge, experiences, attitude, and language community which is culturally and socially situated.
In the beginning of public education, the Bible was the book that most people who learned to read in America, learned to read first. It was a difficult text to get through, but it had everything; fiction, non-fiction, poems, parables, biographies, instructions, science, history, and geography. It was to be taken literally and there was a great deal of inference. It was inspirational and confrontational and its influence could be seen in nearly every book written since.
Then came classic novels, also difficult. There was sight word recognition for the easy words and for the harder words you were taught to sound it out. Comprehension of the nuance and symbolism within these works came though discussion of what was read and meaning from the lesson that was to be learned.
At some point the concept of reading was analyzed and broken down into its parts to make it easier to master. There were so many parts however that it became impossible to teach them all so it was necessary to discern the important, teachable, parts of reading from those that weren’t as relevant. This is where the end began.
Fluency was important. A fluent reader sounded like a good reader. Identifying plot, characters, setting, problem, and solution were important, it showed understanding and was a teachable process.
Nuance and symbolism didn’t make the cut. They were too difficult to explain and open to interpretation. They required too much thought, imagination, and discussion. You had to actually involve yourself in the story in order to grasp these concepts.
In the end, our children are being taught to decode words and follow processes, but they are not learning to read.
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