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Understanding L2
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Chapter The nature of reading abilities
This chapter sketches out an exploratory map of reading by providing the following:
• an initial definition of reading
• a discussion of purposes for reading
• a definition of fluent reading comprehension
• an explanation of how reading works
• an introduction to frequently cited models of reading
A common way to begin a discussion of reading is to provide a definition of the concept. However, this strategy, while important for clarifying later discussions, is not so easy. We noted in the introduction that it is possible to present a single-sentence definition of reading such as the following:
‘Reading is the ability to draw meaning from the printed page and interpret this information appropriately However, without quibbling over the exact wording of such a definition, it is, nonetheless, insufficient as away to understand the true nature of reading abilities. There are five important reasons why this simple definition is inadequate:
• First, it does not convey the idea that there area number of ways to engage in reading. A reader has several possible purposes for reading,
and each purpose emphasises a somewhat different combination of skills and strategies.
• Second, it does not emphasise the many criteria that define the nature of fluent reading abilities it does not reveal the many skills, processes and knowledge bases that act in combination, and often in parallel, to create the overall reading comprehension abilities that we commonly think of as reading.
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• Third, it does not explain how reading is carried out as a cognitive process that operates under intense time constraints yet, these very rapid time-processing constraints are essential to understanding how reading comprehension works for the fluent reader.
• Fourth, it does not highlight how the ability to draw and then interpret meaning from a text varies with the second language (L) proficiency of the reader.
• Fifth, it does not address the social context in which reading takes place nor the reasons why texts will be interpreted and used in differing ways.
These five issues are addressed in this chapter as away to describe the nature of fluent reading abilities. The chapter closes with brief comments on various models of reading – models that synthesise what we know about reading and account for reading performance and reading development.
We would like to point out, at this time, that this chapter focuses primarily on the fluent first-language (L) reading process. One might ask why a book on L reading begins with a discussion of the fluent L reading process there area number of good reasons for adopting this strategy. First, far more research has been carried out on reading in L contexts (especially in English as an L) than in L contexts. Second,
students learning to become readers in L contexts usually achieve a reasonable level of fluency in reading comprehension abilities, but the same claim cannot be made for students learning to read in L contexts.
Third, the ability to draw implications for instruction from research including training studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of numerous instructional techniques and practices – is much more developed in L contexts than it is in L contexts. Fourth, reading instruction in L contexts has been a source of many instructional innovations that have not yet been explored extensively in L contexts, either at the level of research or at the level of practical implementation. These factors suggest that we can describe the reading abilities of students learning to read in their Ls quite well. Even if many L students will never become fluent L readers, they can be taught in ways that lead them in the right direction and help them make as much progress as possible. This direction toward a successful endpoint is what L reading research can offer us.
Our position on the value of L reading research is not meant to suggest that we ignore the significant differences between Land L reading contexts in fact, these differences are addressed in Chapter 2. However, at very advanced levels, Land L reading abilities tend to merge and appear to be quite similar. Soto understand the endpoint of reading abilities, that of the fluent, critical reader, research on L reading development offers us a much more complete understanding.
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When we begin to read, we actually have a number of initial decisions to make, and we usually make these decisions very quickly, almost unconsciously inmost cases. For example, when we pickup a newspaper, we usually read the front page with some combination of search processing,
general reading comprehension and skimming. We read partly for information, but we also read with a goal to finish the newspaper fairly rapidly, because few people try to read every line of a newspaper. We may initially search the front page fora particular story that we expect to be there. If the headlines cue us in the right way, we may check quickly for the length of the article, and we may then read through a number of paragraphs for comprehension (appropriately influenced by the newspaper-story genre, a reporting of what, who, when, where, why and how. At some point, we will decide that we have enough information and will either stop reading the article or skim the remainder to be sure that we do not miss some surprisingly informative part.
In other settings, typically academic or professional ones, we sometimes synthesise information from multiple reading sources, from different parts of along and complex text, or from a prose text and accompanying diagram or chart. Such reading is quite different from searching, skimming, or reading for general comprehension (see Grabe, 2009). In
Quote There are purportedly five basic processes involved in reading text, or passages. When someone is reading paragraphs in a book, for example, one of five basically different processes is likely to be involved. These processes,
or reading gears, are called scanning (Gear 5), skimming (Gear 4), rauding
(Gear 3), learning (Gear 2), and memorizing (Gear 1). . . The rauding process a general reading and listening rate, Gear 3, is the process most readers use regularly. It is the type of reading that is most typical it is normal reading, ordinary reading, natural reading or simple reading.
It is the process that is used most often when adults are reading something that is relatively easy for them to comprehend – that is, a magazine, a newspaper, a novel, a memo at work or a letter from a friend. Evidence that most of reading that goes on in the world involves rauding comes from
Sharon (1973); he surveyed 5,067 adults in a national probability sample and found that less than 1% of their reading involved anything that was difficult to understand during their typical 2 hours of reading each day.
Carver (1997, pp. 5–6)
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these circumstances, a more critical set of goals must be established for an effective synthesis the reader needs to remember points of comparison or opposition, assess the relative importance of the information, and construct a framework in which the information will be organised.
Finally, and most commonly in L settings, people read for general comprehension (whether for information or for pleasure. Here we might read a novel, a short story, a newspaper article, or a report of some type to understand the information in the text, to be entertained and/or to use the information fora particular purpose. The overall goal is not to remember most of the specific details but to have a good grasp of the main ideas and supporting ideas, and to relate those main ideas to background

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