READING: ART OR SKILL?

“The mistaken idea is that reading is a skill – learn to crack the code and practice comprehension strategies – may be the single biggest factor holding back reading achievement.”

Prof Daniel Willingham, a researcher at the University of Virginia, made this statement in an article called Language and the Brain in the Washington Post (Sept. 09). It supports what I have been teaching for a long time.

The skill of reading, which can be taught, is learning the sounds and symbols to decode words. But reading goes far beyond that simple skill. The dictionary definition of reading is “making sense”.  A dictionary defines art as, “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” That is exactly what has to happen for reading to take place.

Art is usually thought of as painting, sculptures, prints, etc. However, we talk about the art of cooking, the art of sailing, the art of war, the art of seduction, the art of conversation and so on.  Art is a broader term that we use for a quality which many believe is incapable of definition.

Michael Polanyi contends, in his book Personal Knowledge, that,  “An art which cannot be specified in detail cannot be transmitted by prescription since no prescription for it exists. It can be passed on only from a master to an apprentice.”

I consider reading to be an art. Reading is only successful when we are able to understand the message, a process that requires imagination. Comprehension can’t be taught as a skill because it relies on the  knowledge the reader brings to text. This is the absolutely critical factor that a good reader brings to his or her reading. No matter how many words we can figure out we are all illiterate, unable to read, in texts to which we can’t bring an understanding of the concepts behind the words and the subject matter at hand. Decoding, figuring out words,  is not reading.

Reading is artistic improvisation. It is developed from a learned body of knowledge that is uniquely and individually interpreted. An art cannot be learned by memorizing rules, but only by ‘living with’ something or with someone who has mastered the art. It requires permission to make mistakes. It must be light-hearted and enjoyable. Art escapes exact definition. It must be caught with imagination and vision. It involves creating our own meaning.

The Making Sense Approach to Reading is an apprenticeship model. It teaches adults how to become Masters who are able to Apprentice those who are unable to read well.

My online coaching course, Simply Read! uses this model to teach a new way to look at reading. The reading coach learns how to change the focus of the learner to enable him/her to read fluently and with comprehension using stored knowledge and imagination.

Check it out at www.readingwings.com

or email me at vera@readingwings.com for more information.

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