Reading is not a skill!

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

“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.”

The skill part of reading, which can be taught, is learning the sounds and symbols to decode words.  But reading goes far beyond that simple skill.

Reading is only successful when we are able to understand the message.  Comprehension can’t be taught as a skill because it relies on the prior knowledge the reader brings to text.  It 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, texts to which we can’t bring an understanding of the concepts behind the words and the subject matter at hand.  Decoding is not reading.

Michael Polanyi says, “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.”

Reading is artistic improvisation.  It is developed from a learned body of knowledge that is uniquely and individually interpreted.  Art can’t be learned by memorizing rules, only by ‘living with’ something.  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 teaches how to become a Master who is able to apprentice those who are unable to read well.

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