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“Loving to read as a strategist”. Episode 10. How do we learn to read?

I wish you a fantastic weekend of October, blessed with all the autumn flavors and savoirs of the month. Today´s subject is about how we learn to read. Mainly I have utilized a source of reference that seems to be one of the best books I have ever read about this topic, and I encourage you to read it, to the parents and to any reading teacher on earth (1).

Il etait un fois”. An exercise watercolor 7 x 5 inches.
Paper Fabriano Traditional White 300GSM, Painted with Holbein pigments. Photo source inspiration:

We recommend you look at the following slides, which are beautifully made for you. These slides embrace the content of our today´s production, and they usually are a summary of a 90-minute long class long that I could offer in any university about this topic. Please download it and print it and keep it for your records. You never know that one of these days, the Internet may blow up and we won´t be able to have all these substantial sagas anymore. I am just kidding.

So let´s begin.

Learning to read is not a one-and-only recipe.
Mark Sadoski, the author of the book “Conceptual foundations of teaching reading” has generated an interesting framework for understanding the different approaches to teaching/learning reading. He has categorized a continuum for teaching to read between two opposite ends: Instruction (at your left) and Education (at your right). See slide number 7. All of us have been faced to learn how to read not exactly in those two extremes, but at some point, in the middle of both spectrums. Instruction for this author means to build or arrange from outside (what the teacher has) and show or tell or demonstrate or arrange lessons to the pupil or reading student. The knowledge is held by the teacher, meanwhile, the learners, who lack it, are receivers of the knowledge. On the other side Education, is to draw out, or to pull learning out from within the students.  The learners have a more dominant role and the teacher’s role is to prompt, guide, and monitor what the student wants or needs to develop from within.

To the last framework, we need to add the printed text or the object (several materials) that is used for reading. As a result, we are in front of three players or part-takers:

  1. The program (the printed texts such as books, teacher´s manuals, workbooks, kits, games, tests, quizzes, and other supplementary materials). All the printed text materials are extensive and organized into a program.
  2. The teacher, who is the instructor or educator, or the trainer (tutor) can play distinct roles in the process of teaching reading.
  3. The reader, the student, or the pupil who is learning how to read in the continuum of decoding-comprehension-response.

If you see slide number 8. Between the two extreme poles of Sadoski´s framework: instruction or education multiple approaches have been researched for decades. The author has categorized three groups or segments of teaching/learning approaches in reading.

  1. Program-controlled teaching/learning
  2. Teacher-controlled teaching/learning
  3. Reader-controlled teaching/learning

Depending on which of the three parties plays a dominant role and which of the rest of the parties fulfill the subordinate roles, the three latter categories, are called “three possible triads”.

Understanding these 3 teaching/learning triad approaches.
Parents should be aware of which type of teaching/learning approach is utilized to teach their kids to read.  In addition, reading teachers must be aware in advance of what type of approach are they using, and ought to be able to identify them properly, not just in theory, but also by experience and practice.  Each approach tends to produce different results in different domains of learning. Slides 9, 10, and 11 describe the distinctive elements of the three teaching-learning approaches, so please go through them in detail.

Teaching to read doesn´t end in primary school, where the levels of pre-literacy are established. It is a continuum that should last a lifetime. Particularly for those learners that encountered difficulties reading during the K-12 education levels, and as adults do not read more than 10 minutes per day. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducts every 10 years, the PIAAC or Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies in several developed economies. The OECD in its last PIAAC version (2012), released alarming discoveries about who can and who can´t read proficiently(2). Look at the following graph please:

The results that the OECD has found 10 years ago are shared literally as follows: “Overall, less than 1% (0.7%) of adults performed at the highest proficiency, or Level 5. Apart from Finland (2.2%), no other country/economy had more than 1.3% of adults performing at this level. In a few countries, such as Chile, Italy, and Turkey, very few adults scored at this proficiency level in literacy. Given the growing demand for complex information-processing skills in the labor market these proportions are worryingly small”. What is more apprehensive is the fact that these results come from developed economies. It is scary, eh?

For your information: OECD LEVEL 5 literacy means: At this level, tasks may require the respondent to search for and integrate information across multiple, dense texts; construct syntheses of similar and contrasting ideas or points of view; or evaluate evidence-based arguments. Application and evaluation of logical and conceptual models of ideas may be required to accomplish tasks. Evaluating the reliability of evidentiary sources and selecting key information is frequently a requirement. Tasks often require respondents to be aware of subtle, rhetorical cues and to make high-level inferences or use specialized background knowledge.

A matrix for understanding the teaching/learning approaches about the reading continuum of Decoding-comprehension-response.
If you continue reading our slides, from slide number 13 to 17, Sadoski has offered two big groups of teaching/learning approaches. The ones that are near the spectrum of instruction, where the program is dominant over the teacher and the learner, and the second group that is near the spectrum of education, where the reader or learner is dominant over the teacher and the program. The first group approaches methods are called skills approach methods of reading, and the second is called holistic approaches methods of reading.

This matrix has 9 cells, and a diagonal line that divides both regions. You can see in your vertical axis, the three fundamental competencies of reading: decoding-comprehension-response. And in your horizontal axis, the three fundamental teaching/learning approaches are program, teacher, and reader. Slide number 14 shows the triangle’s location shadowed with the color blue, which corresponds to the Skills approach methods. Slide number 15 shows the triangle’s location shadowed with the color teal, which corresponds to the Holistic approach methods. The diagonal only helps us to distinguish both zones.

Those reading methods that are a combination or a mix of both types of approaches (Skills and Holistic) are called Balanced approaches, and you can see them in the region shadowed with yellow. Balanced approaches for teaching/learning to read combine elements from both zones, and the combinations are countless, depending on the characteristics of the students, the training, the experience of the teachers, and the availability of the program materials.  All these balanced or balanced blend approaches are distinguished because the teacher can mix and mingle the best of both zones, and these mixtures are flexible in various ways. 

Skills Approach methods of reading.
Traditional Basal Reader instruction is generally categorized in this blue zone of the skills. This teaching approach typically begins with an emphasis on a sequenced program of decoding skills instruction, and then gradually overlaps with a similar program of comprehension skills instruction.  Slide number 18 shows you 5 examples of these methods: Systematic Synthetic Phonics, Systematic Analytic Phonics, Repeated Readings for Fluency, Explicit Teaching of Comprehension Skills, and Mental Imagery in Comprehension and Vocabulary Development. The main general features of each method are included in the slides. We suggest you read Sadoski´s reference book for more information about them.

Holistic Approach methods of reading.
In this color teal segment of methods, which you can observe on slide number 15, we can observe significative methods in which the reader-controlled response is privileged. These holistic methods will always emphasize on reader´s meanings and their efforts to bring those meanings to the printed page.  Teachers set up a learning environment in which students are stimulated and will have some choice in the reading materials that are used. Slide number 19, shows 5 examples of these methods: LEA or Language Experience Approach, Patterned Language or Predictable books; Invented spelling and writing, Individualized reading and Sustained Silent Reading, and finally Student-generated questions. We recommend you read Sadoski’s book for more detailed information.

Balanced Approach methods of reading.
As with everything in life, it seems to be, the balanced blended approach is a better option; according to reading experts, who have been diagnosing and testing these balanced approach methods of reading since Y2K.  It seems to me that a mix of methods from both zones (the Skills methods and the Holistic methods) is working more satisfactorily for students when they are learning to read. See slide number 20, please. 

Our findings and a first inference about learning how to read.
If the OECD has found that in the developed economies, on average less than only 1% (0.7%) of adults can read at the highest proficiency, or level 5; then as corporate strategists, we believe that the problem with our lack of reading proficiency is not in the methods that we use to learn to read. Most readers do reach at least an average of 7th to 9th grade level of reading in developing economies. The prominent problem is that people do not continue reading or improving their literacy skills after high school. As a result, if you don´t use it, you lose it. We hypothesize that people have stopped to read because the brain is searching for not working anymore. Our brains are lazy. By nature, our brains are looking for experiences that gratify them. Our brains also have found slothful activities that don´t push our boundaries to think, and we are getting used to a new mode: digital visual content. And by doing it, our brains, happily, keep their reading competencies at the level where their brains felt comfortable, or with the basic literacy level. Their brains “stick to that level and stay stuck” because there aren´t more generative experiences for reading books, no matter if self-taught, with books clubs, or with formal instruction. These basic-literacy levels keep themselves unchanged through the years into adulthood and do not receive any expansion, specialization, or refinement. Good reading skills (Literacy level 5) only come by practice.  And the practice comes from reading books, books from paper, books from the library, printed good newspapers from proficient literacy journalists, and printed specialized magazines. The visual media from digital tools have substituted reading with digital skimming, digital scanning, browsing, or scrolling in social media, among others as streaming and videos. After the pandemic, the situation is worst and more complex for those who were in the K-12 levels of schooling.

In addition, we dare to advise that there is hope, despite this problematic critical situation. And the optimism comes once humans realize that reading books for our brains is as important as physical training our bodies look fit. It is time to begin again to enjoy the beauty of “simply reading for the delight of it, and the consequent enriching and enhancement of one´s life”(3). Only by understanding that reading is one of the most important social activities for our brains’ health and best literacy levels, we will be able to open our eyes and compare what we are missing.  If the cause of our lack of reading is spending so much time on our digital gadgets, then it is obvious that we need to wake up and realize the situation first, and then change. We won´t fix this issue if we continue scrolling and skimming from our tablets or Smartphones. We are enforced to leave the digital out and read paper books until we can recover our brain superpower capabilities of reading again. Libraries play a pivotal role in these matters, particularly in poor developing economies.

We will stop here. The next chapter will be episode number 11: “When do we read”.

Strategic Music Section.

Music Reading chill-outs

A good reader usually has been blessed with a good reading instructor or educator. The action of reading well starts with the teachers: It is an active process of “constructive meaning”, “creative thinking”, “curiosity”, “investigation mindset”, “monitoring by test-error”, “explorative joy” and “critical reasoning”.  We have already analyzed some of these qualities or characteristics.  Today we will explore the quality of investigation mindset that should be omnipresent in all reading teachers on earth. Investigation means Inquiry and study of the different methods of reading, and understanding what can help our readers to continue doing it after high school.

Each reading teacher should be knowledgeable about all the reading approaches (skills methods, holistic methods, and balanced methods). Only by learning all these methods, and applying them, investigating how they work in their teaching experiences, finding out what occurs with the reader after high school, researching the true causes of lack of literacy beyond K-12 per community, and installing different streams of literacy practice, we will be able to continue reading. It can´t be possible that only 1% of adults, globally, have disembarked to develop their brains to Level 5 of Literacy. We can ignite again our desire to read, to help the kids to also read again.

Today´s music is a compilation by Halidon Music.
The collection of music is interpreted by Metamorphose String Orchestra, Pavel Lyubomudrov, and others.

See you next Tuesday 18th of October, with the eleventh episode of the saga “Loving to read as a strategist: When do we read”. Thank you for reading to me. Have a pretty weekend.

“Loving to Read as a Strategist”. Illustrative and non-commercial image. Giphy source from Nazaret Escobedo

Sources of reference are utilized today.



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Disclaimer: Illustrations in Watercolor are painted by Eleonora Escalante. Other types of illustrations or videos (which are not mine) are used for educational purposes ONLY. Nevertheless, most of the pictures, images, or videos shown on this blog are not mine. I do not own any of the lovely photos or images posted unless otherwise stated.

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