Efficiency, Motivation and Comprehension = the ‘Skill, Will and Thrill’...

Language Arts

Efficiency, Motivation and Comprehension = the ‘Skill, Will and Thrill’ of Reading

from Reading Plus

By Randi Bender     Oct 15, 2018

Efficiency, Motivation and Comprehension = the ‘Skill, Will and Thrill’ of Reading

Nick Mack, a fourth-grade teacher in Burlington, Vermont, says his students are at a transformative stage of their early education. “Around fourth grade, students transition from just reading for reading’s sake—or just for pleasure—to reading for understanding content,” he explains. But if students are reading inefficiently, it means they can’t get enough information from the text to develop background knowledge—or to acquire vocabulary.

Without those two key components in place, Nick Mack’s fourth-graders won’t be able to handle the demands of ever-increasing levels of complex text. And they won’t be able to understand the new ideas they’re encountering in those texts. Mr. Mack needs his students reading efficiently.

What does “reading efficiently” mean exactly? To understand that, we first have to understand the act of reading itself. We’re not born with an ability to read; we have to learn how to do it. We must move through a progression of steps that include learning how to recognize letters and sounds, decode words, and ultimately figure out how to comprehend texts.

But there’s more to reading than simply learning and mastering these cognitive processes. The physical act of reading—moving the eyes smoothly and comfortably over lines of text—is also something we need to master. We must learn how to navigate our eyes from left to right across words on a page or screen without making excessive “fixations”—eye stops. We must learn how to keep our eyes on the current line of text we’re reading, rather than jump to lines above or below. It’s important for our eyes to move across lines of print in a coordinated fashion, and in sync with the cognitive activities that are taking place.

A student who reads inefficiently makes many fixations and regressions as he or she reads. The reader’s mental resources, consumed with trying to move his or her eyes to the appropriate place in the text, can do little more than decode words, if that. Reading is arduous, and understanding the meaning of text becomes unmanageable.

Source: Reading Plus

Efficiency makes reading easier and more comfortable, but there are other critical benefits to the reader. Efficiency has a significant reciprocal effect with motivation and comprehension.

“Efficiency goes hand in glove with motivation and comprehension,” says Dr. P. David Pearson, professor emeritus and former dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. “Readers need all three to be able to learn new ideas from the books they read. Think of it as a combination of skill, will, and thrill. Efficiency provides the skill, motivation engenders the will, and comprehension leads to the thrill of acquiring new ideas.”

Research backs up this assertion. Dr. Alexandra Spichtig, Chief Research Officer for Reading Plus, has studied the effects of reading efficiency for more than a decade. “Comprehending texts is significantly easier when students read efficiently,” she says. “Let’s say we have two students who are reading at the same rate, but only one of them is capable of reading efficiently. Both students finish the text, but the inefficient reader can hardly remember anything he or she has read. For this student, reading is an arduous task that leaves few mental resources available to truly understand and appreciate what the text is saying.”

Dr. Spichtig adds:

It is likely that the efficient reader experiences what I refer to as ‘readorphins.’ These are feelings of reading euphoria that are experienced by efficient readers because they read with ease and comfort. Since they are not distracted by the mechanics of reading, they are free to become fully absorbed in the books they read. Our research shows that students who become more absorbed in what they read report higher levels of confidence and motivation to read.

Efficiency occurs in tandem with reading fluency, but is not synonymous with it. Efficient readers can sustain reading at an appropriate rate for extended periods of time because they are not exhausted by the mechanics of reading. This is not speed reading, but it is reading at a rate that allows for the optimal use of cognitive resources. During the process of reading, the brain stores information in its working memory. Slow, inefficient readers have to work very hard to hold things in their working memory—often beyond the point where meaningful comprehension can take place.

Graphic: Reading Plus. Data: Hasbrouchk & Tindal, 2017; Spichtig et.al., 2016

“Efficiency is so crucial,” says Dr. Jean Sando, a high school language arts and reading teacher in Moorhead, Minnesota. “Without efficiency, you cannot make meaning. I need students to think about the reading, not just ‘think the reading.’ If all a student can do is decode, but he or she cannot think about the meaning of what was read, then he or she can’t make meaning of what was read.”

Dr. Sando says she witnesses numerous positive changes in her students who overcome the barrier of inefficient reading. “Homework goes faster. Reading goes faster. They feel they are on track with peers. That level of efficiency makes their daily work less of a drudge.” By becoming efficient readers, Dr. Sando’s students have found the skill, will, and thrill of reading.

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