Date: Fri, 04 Feb 2005 17:00:01 CST From: Maria Isabel Kalbermatten Subject: Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis ..., 6th ed.
AUTHOR: Smith, Frank TITLE: Understanding Reading SUBTITLE: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read, 6th ed. YEAR: 2004 PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
María Isabel Kalbermatten, Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, University of Minnesota.
Since its first edition in 1971, this book aims to understand reading and learning to read. It also is intended "to be an objective (and scientific) review of every field of study that had anything relevant to say about reading and about learning to read." (p. viii) This sixth edition is organized in thirteen chapters. The theoretical issues discussed in each chapter are supplemented with notes at the end of the book. Key terms, which are printed in italic, can be found in the Glossary, where the way that they are employed in this book is presented.
Chapter 1: The Essence of Reading In this new chapter, the view of reading as a natural activity is discussed. That learning to read should be a natural activity, just as any other comprehensible aspect of existence, is proposed. The rest of the chapter deals with three issues (alphabet, language, and brain) that, according to Smith, lead to misconceptions about the nature of reading.
Chapter 2: Comprehension and Knowledge Chapter 2 deals with the relationship between comprehension and knowledge. First, the chapter focuses on the structure of our knowledge or theory of the world. The three basic components of our information system (the categories, the rules for specifying categories membership, and the interrelations among the categories) are presented. After that, how we use our knowledge in order to predict and to comprehend the world is discussed. Finally, thinking and "meta-thinking" as constant reflective activities are presented.
Chapter 3: Spoken and Written Language In this chapter, four aspects of language are discussed. The first one is the relationship between the physical surface structure and the meaningful deep structure of language. How meaning is brought to the language is presented. The second aspect discussed is the distinction between spoken and written languages. After the presentation of obvious and common differences between them, the chapter focuses on the distinction between situation-dependent and context-dependent languages, and relates them to spoken and written language. The third aspect discussed is the organization of texts, and how they help not only the readers to read a text, but also the writers to write a text. Finally, the fourth topic is the conventional nature of language and how the familiarity with these conventions helps the reader to predict.
Chapter 4: Information and Experience Chapter 4 explores the difference between information and experience. First, the technical definition of information is examined, and the relationship between information and uncertainty is analyzed. Then, how information can be related to comprehension and redundancy is discussed, followed by limitations in the use of information. Finally, the chapter focuses on information and experience.
Chapter 5: Between Eye and Brain The topic of Chapter 5 is the distinction between visual and non-visual information and how they are reciprocally related in reading and learning to read. Three important characteristics of the visual system are considered, that: we do not see everything that is in front of our eyes; what we do see we do not see immediately; and we do not receive information from our eyes continuously. Finally, the implications of those characteristics for reading and learning to read are discussed.
Chapter 6: Bottlenecks of Memory In this chapter, three aspects of memory (sensory store, short-term memory, and long-term memory) are presented. The weaknesses and strengths of short-term memory and long-term memory according to four specific operating characteristics of memory (input, capacity, persistence, and retrieval) are discussed. Finally, the memory limitations are considered.
Chapter 7: Letter Identification In Chapter 7, two models for letter identification are examined: template matching and feature analysis. The advantages of the futures-analytic models over template matching model are pointed out. Finally, the feature analysis model is used in order to explain how readers identify letters.
Chapter 8: Word Identification Chapter 8 deals with the identification of words. Three theories of word identification (whole-word identification, letter-by-letter identification, and spelling patterns) are discussed. The remainder of the chapter considers a feature-analytic model for the identification of individual words in isolation. Two aspects of learning to identify words are discussed: the establishment of appropriate visual features lists for immediate word identification, and the association of a name with a category. Finally, the difficulties of counting the number of words that a reader knows -because of the problematic definitions of "word"- are referenced.
Chapter 9: Phonics and Mediated Word Identification The topic of Chapter 9 is the use of phonics generalizations and other methods of mediated word identification. First, the problems with spelling- sound correspondence in English, and to what extent the knowledge of the sounds associated with the alphabet's letters helps the reader to identify words are examined. Then, arguments in favor of the present spelling system are presented, and the cost of its reform is discussed. The relationship between spelling and meaning is also analyzed. After that, some strategies of mediated word identification used by experienced readers and children who are gaining experience in reading are presented. Then, the chapter focuses on the identification of unknown words using analogy with words that are already known, and discusses its advantages over the uses of phonics generalizations. Finally, learning mediated word identification strategies in a meaningful context are referred to.
Chapter 10: The Identification of Meaning This chapter considers the identification of words in meaningful sequences. In the first part of the chapter, the immediate identification of meaning is discussed. That readers identify meaning without and before the identification of individual words is shown. How meaning identification is accomplished and how it is learned are also discussed. In the second part of the chapter, the mediated identification of meaning is considered. The use of the meaning of a sequence of words as a whole to provide possible meaning for an individual word is analyzed. Finally, the third part of the chapter deals with how a text is understood when the words are familiar, how unfamiliar words are understood, and how they are read aloud.
Chapter 11: Reading, Writing, and Thinking In this chapter, what reading means to readers is dealt with. In the first part of the chapter, definitions of reading are discussed. Then, the interconnection of global and focal predictions of readers, global and focal intentions of the writer, and specification of a text (global and local) are presented. After that, fluent reading and difficult reading for both beginning and experienced readers are analyzed. At the end of the chapter, comments on writing and thinking are made.
Chapter 12: Learning About the World This chapter is concerned with learning. First, how learners construct their own theories of the world by testing hypotheses is explained. Then, how language is learned by understanding the situation in which it is used is discussed. After that, what is modified or elaborated by learning (the category system, the set of distinctive features, and the interrelations among categories) is presented. Then, the chapter refers to the underestimation of learning by adults, and to the risks and rewards of learning. Three constituents (demonstrations, engagement, and sensitivity) that determine what is learned, when it is learned and if learning will take place, are also discussed. Finally, learning as a social event is described.
Chapter 13: Learning About Written Language. Learning to read is the specific concern of chapter 13. First, how children learn to read by being involved in situations where written language makes sense to them and allow them to generate and test hypotheses is discussed. After that, the chapter focuses on two special insights that children must have in order to learn to read (print is meaningful and written language is not the same as speech). Then, the instructional methods, "the Great Debate," and how the computers should be used in the classroom are referred to. The rest of the chapter discusses how to teach reading, the value of test and standards, and how children learn about reading and writing by being members of "The Literacy Club."
Understanding Reading is presented as "a handbook for language arts teachers, a college text for a basic course on the psychology of reading, a guide to relevant research literature on reading, and an introduction to reading as an aspect of thinking and learning." (p. xii) However, as it is stated by the author in the Preface to this sixth edition, this book is not a recipe for teaching reading, but an aid for teachers who should "make their own decisions, based on research about reading, which is accessible to anyone, and their experience and personal knowledge of their students, which only they possess." (p. viii)
Regarding that perspective, the following quote is one of the interesting comments and observations that Smith makes throughout the book:
"We live and learn in a world where no final answers are guaranteed, and must make profound decisions for ourselves (even if only to accept unquestioningly the opinions or decisions of someone else). Throughout their professional lives, teachers are confronted by conflicting points of view, frequently urged with compelling authority and conviction, and they must be able to take a position. The first responsibility and right of all teachers and students must be to exercise independent thought - although in their own education they are often denied that opportunity with rationalizations that they 'aren't ready,' 'shouldn't be confused,' or 'lack thinking experience' (Smith, 1990, 1993)." (p. xi)
Smith's book is a valuable contribution to the study of reading and learning to read because it provides the reader with a complete understanding of the subject. In general, my impression of the book is very positive. Its organization is excellent. Each assertion is carefully supported and evidence is well documented. The same information is provided in different forms in the main body of the chapter, in the chapter Summary and in the Notes. The bibliography is substantial.
In conclusion, Understanding Reading is a comprehensive and thoughtfully written text that provides a good overview of research in a variety of disciplines related to the subject. Anyone interested in the subject will find it a fascinating read.
Bruner, Jerome S. (1986) Actual minds, Possible Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Freyre, Paulo (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.
Downing, John (1979) Reading and Reasoning. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Ferreiro, Emilia and Ana Teberosky (1982) Literacy Before Schooling. Exeter. NH: Heinemann.
Lakoff, George (1987) Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Moll, Luis C. (1990) Vygotsky and Education: Instructional Implications and Applications of Sociohistorical Psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Piaget, Jean (1976) To Understand is to Invent. New York: Penguin Books.
Vygotsky, Lev S. (1978) Mind in society: The Development of Higher Psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
The reviewer is a PhD student of Hispanic Linguistics at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is writing her dissertation on verbal irony as a prototype category in Argentinean Spanish conversations, and working in interactional units, repetitions and repairs in Argentinean Spanish conversations. Previously she was an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the Catholic University of Santa Fe, and a Member of the Central Committee of Teacher Training in the Ministry of Education of Santa Fe Province (Argentina). She has also done extensive research in Applied Linguistics, taught Spanish at secondary and post-secondary institutions, and served for five years as Principal of a High School in Santa Fe, Argentina.