Adult literacy teachers and volunteer tutors teach reading (comprehension). How they teach this depends largely on their familiarity with the key reading theories, the effectiveness of their reading instruction, and the skills level of the students.
Often, the teachers and volunteer tutors teach with little or no theoretical knowledge of reading. This is not to say that their efforts are ineffective or unappreciated, but rather their efforts can be enhanced.
Having knowledge of the key reading theories—bottom-up, interactive, social constructivism, and top-down—better shapes the teacher’s or volunteer tutor’s instructional decisions. They can create instructional lessons based on research that actually help learners develop the components of reading (phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency vocabulary, and comprehension).
Teachers and volunteers tutors can attend professional development training offered by professional organizations such as the Literacy Assistance Center (LAC), located in Lower Manhattan, and learn about reading theories and teaching strategies.
Learning about key reading theories and the components of reading will help teachers and volunteer tutors to choose appropriate materials and create instructional lessons and activities that improve students’ reading and comprehension.
- Bottom-up theory is a text-based model in which readers process information in the text from part to whole. That is, they learn to master one skill at a time, starting with individual letters or sounds (phonemes) and gradually moving to word units.
- The interactive theory states that reading is a cognitive process; readers process information moving from whole to part and part to whole. Reading is an active process of making meaning, which happens as readers interact with the text. Teachers encourage readers to think about the text, the context, and their purpose for reading.
- The reading process in the social constructivism theory is socially constructed. Readers make meaning from cues in the text and from their background. Knowledge is related to the readers’ culture and is shaped by that the readers’ primary language, gender, and social class.
- The top-down theory identifies reading as being primarily a language-thinking (psycholinguistic) process. Readers process information in the text from whole to part. They use their knowledge of language and the world to understand the meaning of texts.