Reading is Like Driving

Good Drivers Multi-task

Driving is Like Reading

Reading is a lot like driving. Let’s stick with a car for the purposes of our comparison.

Everyone knows that driving a car is a complicated process. No one jumps into the driver’s seat and begins driving without some sort of instruction. Driving is especially challenging because it involves multi-tasking. To be able to drive, the driver must understand how the car works, know how to use the machine, remember and apply the traffic rules, and interact safely with their driving environment all at the same time!

Good drivers understand each of these four components and remember to apply each of these tasks simultaneously and automatically. Bad drivers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. However, the good news is that even bad drivers can learn the concepts and skills to improve their driving with good teaching and practice.

Unfortunately, good drivers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the most frequent bad habit involves how drivers interact with their

Distracted Driving with Phones

Distracted Driving

environment. Let’s face it, sometimes we choose to add a multitude of distractions to our driving environment, even though we know we shouldn’t. Other times, we unintentionally fail to interact with our surroundings.

For example, most of us who have been driving for years have had a similar experience: We get on a familiar road to a familiar destination and our minds begin to wander. We arrive with the realization that we have absolutely no memory of driving to that place. We were truly on autopilot.

Of course, we must have had some degree of environmental awareness in order to arrive safely at our destination; however, most of us would agree that the interaction with our environment must have been less than optimal and the lack of any driving memory is certainly troubling.

So, let’s see how the driving process compares to the reading process.

Like driving, reading is a complicated process—more so than many of us realize. Decades of reading research have refuted the popular notion that reading is a natural, developmental process akin to oral language development (Gough & Hillinger, 1980; Lyon, 1998; Wren, 2002; Moats, L, & Tolman, C 2009). Simply put, children do not learn to read as they learn to speak, through natural exposure to a literate environment.

We now know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that reading is taught, not caught. No child, nor adult picks up a book, article, newspaper, or poem and reads without having had some form of instruction. Now, of course the quantity and quality of instruction varies, and many adults will not remember how they first learned to read, but they certainly were taught to do so.

Now, let’s return to our two-fold definition of reading, which we developed in our first two lectures: Reading is reading comprehension and reading comprehension is understanding and remembering what we read.

Good Readers are like Good Drivers.

Reading is Like Driving

To be able to understand and remember what is read, the reader must know how reading works, apply the phonetic tools, understand the meaning and order of words, and monitor the reader-author relationship. And, yes, like good drivers, they can multi-task.

Good readers apply these four components simultaneously and automatically. Struggling readers don’t understand or don’t remember to apply some or all of them. The good news is that both weak and strong readers can learn and practice the concepts and skills to improve their reading comprehension and retention.

However, like good drivers, good readers often develop bad habits over the years. Of the four components, the usual culprit is how readers interact with their reading environment and author’s text.

For example, most of us, like the distracted driver I spoke of, have had this experience infrequently or frequently while reading: We turn the page in a book or scroll down on our phones and our minds begin to wander as we read. We finish reading and come to the realization that we haven’t the foggiest idea about what we just read. We did read the words, but we did not understand them, nor remember any of the information or ideas. Some of us would swear to having read, say Beowulf, in the same manner when we were high school seniors.

Now you may have noticed that I used italics for the words reading and read, because although we pronounced the words, we really didn’t read them, using our definition of reading comprehension. If we don’t understand or retain what we have read, we really haven’t read.

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FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable, easy-to- teach, and science of reading-based, featuring the Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables designed for older students. The word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program.

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