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What are Reading Skills?

by Professor Muhammad Shafiq Malik
reading-skills-skimming-scanning

Definition of “Reading”?

Reading is a process by which we make sense of the text. Receptive skills have two important aspects.

  • The ability to recognize the letters of the alphabet or graphical maps.
  • Understanding the information.

What is “Reading Comprehension”?

Comprehension means the degree to which the reader is able to extract relevant information from a text. During the process of reading, an encoder gets involved in the sending and receiving of the message respectively. The encoder is the writer who acts as the sender of the message and decoder is the reader who acts as a recipient.

Reading requires reconstruction of the message. It demands thinking and planning on the part of the reader. The reader has to distinguish the text from the supporting ideas and at the same time, he has to recognize the hidden meanings. The total act of reading is a “decision making” process as the reader attempts to discover meaning according to his own sense.

The “Reading Comprehension” consists of the following characteristics:

  • The “Input Data” in the form of a print image.
  • “Bits of Information” in the short-term of the reader.
  • “Bracketing with already stored knowledge in long term memory.

During the process of reading the reader:

  1. Receives the image of words/symbols through eyes as visual information (if he is blind, he detects it through touch).
  2. The segments of information are held, for a short time, in the short-term memory.
  3. The information is transferred to long-term memory where the fresh information is linked with stored knowledge. If there is any information gap in the input data the reader can bridge it with already stored knowledge, making a sense of the message conveyed to him through written symbols.

As reading requires an understanding on the part of the reader, the sub-skills of reading– skimming and scanning help the reader comprehend the text with the appropriate reading.

Skimming

Definition

Skimming is a method of rapid reading which will help you to understand the overall theme or general meaning of the text. It is a fast reading technique that helps readers to quickly identify the main idea of a text. The skimming technique is used to obtain the gist or overall sense of a text. The reader does not pronounce each and every word of the text, rather he focuses his attention on the subject matter, an overall view of the text, and prepares himself to answer such questions:

  1. Summarize the given text.
  2. Give points of the text.
  3. Rewrite the subject matter in your own words.
  4. Give a suitable title to the text. Such questions indicate that skimming is like global listening.

How skimming takes place?

  1. Be attentive to the clues and indicators like titles, heading, subheadings, and typographical indicators (words in italic or bold letters) of important ideas.
  2. In an essay, read the first and the last paragraph to grasp the subject matter with clarity of concept.
  3. Read the first sentence of each paragraph, as a thesis statement or a topic sentence that means the sentence containing the “stand-point” or main idea.
  4. Look at pictures and diagrams with captions(words printed with picture) or words written below them.

Scanning

Definition

Scanning means looking for a specific piece of information in a text. The purpose of scanning is to locate specific or precise or exact details that a reader is looking for. The sub-skill of reading by which the reader collects a piece of particular information from the given text is known as scanning that involves the ability to reject or ignore irrelevant information. In order to locate a specific piece of information, the reader has to go through the text quickly and focus his attention on the relevant part of the text. For example:

  • Look-up a word in the dictionary for meanings.
  • Search out a telephone number in the dictionary.
  • Find out the result out of candidates from the “Gazette”.
  • Locate weather conditions or functions in town in the newspaper.
  • Extract the list of works from the biological sketch of a writer.

Procedure for Scanning:

  1. The required information has to be kept in the mind of the reader.
  2. Decide which clues will be helpful in finding out the specific information.
  3. A brisk eye movement on the pages of the text.
  4. Read that part of the text which contains the required information.

The clues which help the reader to find out a particular piece of information may be a full sentence, some words, a single word, a punctuation mark, alphabetical order, or numbers, etc. The development of scanning skill needs training of eyes to move quickly, looking for the clues related to the required information. Scanning is useful to answer the question such as:

  1. Fill in the blanks.
  2. Mark True or False.
  3. Cross Matching.
  4. Multiple-Choice Items.
  5. Short answer/question.

Reading Speed

If we keep in our mind the following important points about the reading we can develop a foundational work to enhance reading speed:

Reading is:

  • An active as well as a receptive skill.
  • Decoding a message.
  • Extracting information from a text.
  • Getting specific questions answered.
  • Making sense of the text an interactive process.
  • Predicting and interpreting.
  • Referring to and inferring (concluding) information from a text.
  • A constant process of guessing.
  • Constant making and remarking of hypothesis.

The following principles of learning to read may also be considered as pre-requisites for developing appropriate speed in reading:

  • The reader must develop a basic sense of written language.
  • The learner needs to develop the basic sense of what print looks like and how it works.
  • He has to develop the ability to think about words as a sequence of phonemes or building blocks of spoken language. He should understand that sentences are made up of strings of separate words.
  • Awareness of spelling patterns that recur across words hastens progress in reading.
  • Although the ability to sound out words is important for learning and reading, it is not enough. Written language is not just speech written down. Instead, it brings new vocabulary to language patterns, new thoughts, etc. The reader must also learn to take the time to reflect on these aspects of the text.

Finally, we shall consider some practicable suggestions and techniques to enhance reading speed.

1. First Reading in Chunks

In this technique our eyes take the view of a group of letters and words. The reader should develop the ability to read in chunks to take in four-five words in a single eye glance.

2. Inferring the Meaning

There is no need to stop at difficult words just to look up their meaning in a dictionary. The difficulty can be faced by guessing the meaning of the words. Keeping in view the context of their use. If the reader develops the skills to use clues, structure, and context to guess the meaning, the interest in reading can be maintained along with the improvement of reading speed.

3. Previewing

The reader should make himself conscious of the layout, heading, subheading, paragraph indentations, and various typeface or fonts of composing the text. Paying attention to the printed format can speed up reading comprehension.

4. Anticipation

If the reader prepares himself to guess what is likely to occur next in the text, he can improve the speed of reading. This is some sort of anticipation while reading the next. He can use certain clues like the title and sub-title etc, that may give him an idea about the chapter or contents of the book.

5. Silent Reading

Loud reading reduces the speed of reading as each word has to be pronounced according to stress and intonation patterns. Silent reading is recommended to save time by establishing a direct link between visual impact and comprehension. It will enhance the speed of reading.

6. Skimming

By skimming the speed of reading can be increased. It is to go through the text quickly to get a general understanding. One of the easiest ways to skim-read is to look at the center section of a text and then to run the eyes down the center area. It is not reading every word but reading very quickly to get general ideas about a text.

7. Scanning

Reading quickly for a specific piece of information also increases the speed of reading. The unnecessary parts of the text are not paid attention, therefore reading speed gets enhanced.

8. SQ3R

“SQ3R” is a systematic process of reading by which reading speed, as well as comprehension (understanding), can be enhanced.

  • “S”: stands for the survey.
  • “Q”: stands for the question.
  • First “R”: stands for the read.
  • Second “R”: stands for the recall.
  • Third “R”: stands for the review.

In the first stage, the reader collects general information through a survey of the text. It is some sort of skimming in its nature. The reader looks at the layout, titles, sub-titles, tab of contents, and illustration, etc to get a general impression of the text.

In the second stage, the reader makes questions (in his mind) related to the text. It is to make sure that he is going to involve in a purposeful study and will try to find out answers to the questions arising in his mind.

In the third stage, the reader begins reading the text. This reading is an intensive reading in which the reader concentrates on the script, punctuation marks, variation in type (or composting), the way paragraphs are formed, etc.

In the fourth stage, the reader stops actual reading and recalls to his mind whatever he has read so far. He tries to bring back to mind what he has extracted from the text.

In the fifth stage, the reader gets indulged in the process of “review”. The is a repetition of the steps:

  • Survey
  • Questioning
  • Reading
  • Recalling

This last stage ensures an understanding of the text and also enhances the speed of purposeful reading.

Faulty Reading Habits

Most of the students do not enjoy reading books, rather they take them for examination purpose as a burden. Moreover, when they start reading they face many problems due to their faulty reading habits. If they set aside their faulty reading habits, they will feel comfortable with the textual material and enjoy reading. Here, we try to identify some faulty reading habits which are creating problems for the students.

1. Finger Movement

Some students move their fingers along the line of the text. This finger-move habit is not good for reading. The students should keep in their mind that reading is linked with eye movement, not finger movement.

2. Head Movement

During reading some students are found moving their heads and this movement increase when they try to learn something by heart. The head movement is to be avoided as it inhibits reading speed. Moreover, the vision gets disturbed as the eyes are denied natural fixations.

3. Vocalization

Reading is not some sort of developing the speaking skill. It is concerned with the comprehension of the text after identifying the written symbols. Therefore, reading aloud or vocalizing the written text is a bad habit and this habit retards reading speed to a great extent.

4. Lips Movement

Many readers do not produce the words in any audible way, even then they move their lips and mouth. This may be called sub-vocalization and such habit is also a faulty reading habit. Reading should be the eye contact and activation of faulty of mind to associate the symbolics with meanings. It demands an understanding of the reader in the shortest way.

5. Reading without Understanding

Some students are in the habit of reading without making a conscious effort to understand the text. They read just for the sake of going through the pages but they do not gather any information or knowledge from the written material. Their minds remain blank. If they develop the habit of skimming and scanning they can utilize the time and energy in a better way.

6. Reading without awareness of objective

Some readers get involved in actual reading, without knowing the purpose and objective of reading. Therefore, they remain unable to form questions in their mind. It is necessary to set aside the habit of reading without awareness of its objectives.

7. Word by Word Reading

The habit of word by word reading instead of taking words in chunks is also a faulty habit of reading. Word by word reading is a time-consuming process and it retards the reading speed too. Reading in chunks, the recommended style of reading is to be developed by the students or readers.

8. Reading without guessing meanings

Most of the students use dictionaries frequently during reading when they face difficult words and phrases. This exercise interrupts the reading and sometimes the students feel the text as a burden. They lose interest in reading and eventually stop reading the text.

It is just because of their habit of not using an inferring technique that is almost essential for developing the reading skill. These are some of the faulty reading habits that the student should discard for developing reading skills.

Strategies for enhancing reading skills

The term “strategy” is used to describe what is involved when we try to solve any problematic situation. For example, when a student faces the problem of difficult words and phrases, he is suggested to use the strategy of making guesses from the context. It is an effective strategy for reading. Good readers have a wide range of effective approaches to text and they can choose a strategy suitable to a given text. One of the goals of foreign language reading instruction is to provide students with as many strategies as possible.

  1. Use previous knowledge to predict what is presented in the following text.
  2. Skip some difficult parts of the text but get the outline of the text.
  3. Guess unknown words and phrases by using the clues or context.
  4. Realize what are important parts in a text and leave out.
  5. Do not depend on text information through bottom-up processing but utilize actively top-down processing. The imagination of the reader is very important during reading and this vicarious reading is an effective strategy as a substitute.
  6. Change reading strategies according to the nature of the text. There are different kinds of text and strategies of reading that should differ according to the kinds of text.
  7. Take the reading of text actively. Activating schemata is especially useful for foreign language learners. According to “Schema theory”, readers acquire information from text not passively but actively. Inference, generalization, and personal-involvement make good readers.
  8. SQ3R formula (described earlier) is also a good strategy to enhance reading skills.

Activities to Develop Reading-based on authentic material

Activity 1: Check your reading speed by using the following formula:

60* total No. of Words / The time in seconds = Words per minute

The scale of Speed in Word per minute:

170-200 = Slow

200-250 = Average

250-300 = Above average

300-400 = Fast

400-above = Very Fast

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