Skillful Readers and Poor Readers: Research and Theory

The ability to read fluently and comprehend fully has been an essential skill for academic achievement and adult life. Researchers and educators have long sought to understand the factors that differentiate skillful readers from poor readers, and several theories and empirical studies have been conducted to explain this phenomenon.

One of the most influential theories is the Simple View of Reading, proposed by Gough and Tunmer (1986). According to this theory, reading comprehension is the product of two components: word recognition and language comprehension. Word recognition refers to the ability to decode words, while language comprehension involves understanding the meaning of words and sentences.

In other words, to comprehend text, readers need to be able to decode words accurately and quickly, and then understand the meaning of those words and how they fit together in sentences and paragraphs. Fluent and skillful readers are therefore those who have developed both these components to a high level.

Numerous studies have validated the Simple View of Reading, showing that poor readers tend to struggle with either word recognition or language comprehension or both, while skilled readers have developed both components effectively. For example, studies by Perfetti and Hart (2002) have found that skilled readers have better phonological awareness (the ability to identify and manipulate sounds within words) and broader vocabularies than poor readers.

Moreover, research has shown that effective reading instruction can improve both word recognition and language comprehension skills, and this can help poor readers catch up to their more skilled peers. For example, a study by CIERA (Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement) found that systematic and explicit phonics instruction in the early years of schooling can improve children’s word recognition and reading comprehension, especially for those who are at risk of reading difficulties.

Another theory that has been proposed to explain the differences between skilled and poor readers is the Reading Comprehension Deficit theory, which posits that some readers experience difficulties in understanding the text because they lack metacognitive strategies for comprehending text. These strategies include predicting, monitoring, clarifying, and summarizing, and skilled readers use them to actively construct meaning from the text they read.

Studies have shown that poor readers are less likely to engage in metacognitive strategies, such as making connections between what they are reading and their prior knowledge, or monitoring their comprehension as they read. Effective reading instruction, therefore, should not only focus on building word recognition and language comprehension skills but also on teaching metacognitive strategies to help students become active and strategic readers.

In conclusion, research and theory have demonstrated that skilled readers have developed both word recognition and language comprehension skills and engage in metacognitive strategies to comprehend text actively. Poor readers may struggle with one or both of these components, and effective reading instruction should target these skills and strategies to improve reading comprehension. By understanding the factors that differentiate skillful readers from poor readers, educators can design effective interventions and ensure that all students have the skills and strategies they need to succeed in reading and beyond. 

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