Module 1


Essential Questions for this Module

  1. How do students acquire language?
  2. What is reading?
  3. How do students acquire reading competency?


Think about a time when you learned how to do something, such as tie your shoes, ride a bike, drive a car, water ski, etc. How did you learn this skill? You may not remember all of the factors that went into your learning, however, I can assure you that the process is complex.


Brian Cambourne, an educational anthropologist from Australia, has been studying the learning process for over 40 years. In his research, Dr. Cambourne set out to discover how young children learn language. He identified eight conditions that promote language acquisitions: immersion, demonstration, expectation, responsibility, approximations, employment, response, and engagement.



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Now, think again about something that you recently learned. Which of these conditions were part of your learning process? Did your teacher demonstrate the process, have high expectations for you, allow you to make mistakes, and provide you with feedback?


So how might these conditions relate to literacy learning, or more specifically to learning to read? What would the learner need? How might you change the above descriptions of each condition to describe the process of learning to read? Read this article from the FLARE Center to learn more about establishing an enviornment for literacy learners.

Test your understanding of the article in the activity below.



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What is reading?

If you were asked to define reading, what might you say? How would you describe it? 


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Reading and writing are developed from the part to the whole: letters then words then sentences then paragraphs then stories.

Many people think about reading as the ability to say the words on the page; however, reading involves much more than just putting letters and sounds together to make words. Establishing a clear definition of reading provides an important perspective for how we can promote conditions for learning that will support students' success. Throughout the years, literacy researchers, teachers, and parents have viewed reading in different ways. Most educators, however, would agree that the ultimate goal of reading is comprehending. In other words, if a reader cannot talk about what they read, they are not really reading. Reading is no longer viewed as a simple decoding of printed symbols into oral language, although that is certainly part of the process when reading printed texts. "The sense you make of a text does not depend first of all on the marks on the paper. It depends first on the sense you bring to it" (Goodman, 1996).  In other words, reading is a process of making sense of print, not a process of recognizing letters and putting sounds to those letters. In this active search for meaning, readers use their knowledge of how language works to make sense of text.




There is no doubt that reading is a complex process.  According to Goodman (1996) reading is an active search for meaning that requires studying the relationships between the reader's thought processes, language, and sociocultural settings in which both the reader and the text are changed during the process.


The Reading Process

The most important concept from the slideshow is that reading is a process, and not a set of skills that exist in isolation. In other words, readers use several language systems, reading strategies, and background knowledge to construct meaning when they read.

 Readers come to this language process with:

This same knowledge of language and reading which readers use to read accurately also causes them to make miscues. We use the term miscue rather than mistake or error when a reader's observed response (what the reader says) does not match the expected response (what is in the text). Often readers' miscues are the result of their knowledge of the language systems (such as syntax and semantics) and reading strategies and are therefore, not random. 

 Every reader miscues (Goodman, Watson, Burke, 2005), miscuing is NOT simply random, uncontrolled behavior. The fact that all readers miscue when they read makes sense when you consider that all readers bring their own experiences and background knowledge to any reading event. Goodman (1996) calls this a parallel text. All readers will "construct [their] own meaning, employing [their] own values, understandings and experiences" (Goodman, 1996, p. 2). Therefore, teachers must place emphasis on the quality of the miscue and the strategies that readers use rather than expecting that readers say every word exactly as it is in the text.

Observing the Process in Action

In this next activity, you will listen to two readers. As you listen to these readers, consider what you learned about the reading process. What do you notice about their use of reading strategies and language systems? How do they use their background knowledge? 


In this audio file, you will listen to Randy, a second grader, as he reads from the book All About Koalas. Below is a link to the script, so that you can follow along as he reads.

Click here for a word doc of the audio.



in this audio file, you will listen to Jordan as she reads a chapter from Camp Detective. Below is a link to the script, so that you can follow along as she reads.

 Click here for a word doc of the audio


Both Randy and Jordan are accurate readers, but both have a more difficult time with comprehension, being able to tell about what they read. They could each recall a few details of the story, but had a harder time thinking beyond the story. You might also have noticed how they used the language cueing systems and the reading strategies. Would you describe either or both of them as proficient or non-proficient?


Let's return to our essential questions for this module.

  1. How do students acquire language?
  2. What is reading?
  3. How do students acquire reading competency?


How might you answer these questions now? What have you learned that can help you?


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 In the next module, we will focus specifically on background knowledge, or schema, and what counts as literacy.


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