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The Three Domains of Reading

Mark Taylor | Sep 15, 2016 at 02:20 PM
Mark Taylor

 ...the gateway to knowledge, insight, and joy

That’s how David Pearson, our colleague and former chairman of the International Literacy Association’s Literacy Research Panel, describes reading independently.  I believe every educator who has ever helped a student become a successful reader would agree.  

Troubling Decline in Independent, Silent Reading

With Dr. Pearson's description in mind, I’m troubled by recent research showing declines in independent reading, and, I believe educators share my concerns.  National data suggest that one third of 13-year- olds and almost half of 17-year- olds rarely or never engage in recreational reading.  

When they do read independently, too many students are struggling more and comprehending less. In fact, research reveals some sobering facts

  • a 19% decline in comprehension-based silent reading rate among high school students in 2011 when compared with their peers in 1960
  • grade 12 students in 2011 averaged more than 1.3 eye-fixations per word. Inefficient eye movement slows down reading and makes it more difficult to concentrate on meaning  
  • while younger students report more interest in reading, by high school, students in lower reading rate quartiles reported, on average, a neutral level of interest in reading.  This is an alarming downward trend that suggests many high school students may, in fact, have lost all interest in reading.


Reversing the Decline: Three Domains of Reading:

Despite these troubling declines, there is reason to be optimistic.  When we look closely, these research findings also reveal a solution - the three essential domains of successful independent silent reading.  

When students spend time reading but come away understanding very little of what they’ve read - that’s the cognitive domain.  Most reading instruction has focused here, on traditional vocabulary and comprehension.

When students have difficulty moving their eyes efficiently across lines of text - stopping, starting, or fixating on words  - that’s the physical domain of reading.  It’s easy to forget that reading begins with the simple, physical act of moving our eyes across lines of text.

When students lose interest in reading - that’s the emotional domain.  This domain builds the confidence and motivation that allows students to see reading as valuable and worthwhile - and discover it as the means to developing their interests and themselves.  

These are the three domains of reading:

  • Physical - developing fluency and stamina
  • Cognitive - building vocabulary and comprehension
  • Emotional - tapping student interests to build confidence and motivation  

In addition to understanding “what” these three domains include, it’s also essential to address “how” we develop them in our students.



Integrate the 3 Domains, Don’t Isolate Them

When students read independently, they don’t engage with each domain of reading in isolation from the others. They engage with all three domains simultaneously. Yet most reading programs focus on only one domain and try to develop it by isolating it from the others.

The research is clear - that approach to reading instruction is outdated and is failing too many students.

At Reading Plus we believe integrating all three domains into one personalized system is an essential component of reversing the decline in independent silent reading. Reading Plus builds the physical skills essential for fluency and stamina, provides the personalized, leveled content that allows students to build vocabulary and comprehension, and taps into students interests to build confidence and motivation.  Each student gets the personalized integration of what they need, when they need it, at the pace that works best for them.

Reading Plus’ approach is rooted in eight decades of research and is proven to increase achievement in students from elementary grades through college.

I hope you’ll read our free white paper which provides more detail on integrating the three domains of reading and includes links to supporting research articles and studies.  

Dr. Pearson’s quote rings true with us all for good reason.  Together, we’re focused on helping students become successful readers and discover their own knowledge, insight, and joy.


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