Meaning- Based Literacy

Meaning-based approaches
In contrast, advocates of meaning-based approaches see reading and writing as a congnitive process through process through which the reader associates meaning with print. As readers study the print on a page, they simultaneously try to match their own background knowledge with the ideas that appears in front of them, “making meaning” in the process.  For example, a person who is familiar with the culture of shopping in a U.S. supermarket will be able to use a store directory effectively, since she understand that the store will be laid out in aisles and that noodles, for example, will  most likely be in the pasta section.  On the other hand, someone who has only shopped at a farmer’s market will find the directory confusing and overwhelming in spite of being able to read the individual food items.  The directory only makes sense to someone who has the cultural knowledge to interpret its meaning.

Meaning-based approaches that focus on meaning and context instead of letters and sounds are based on research in psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology.  They rely on studies information processing strategies that show that good readers do not decode every word they read.  If they did, it would take them a very long time to get to the end of page. Rather, fluent readers check out words quickly(sometimes using phonics as an aid) and then match what they see on the page to their own knowledge of the world.  For example, a reader fluent in English will realize immediately that, in news story, the sentence, “the firemen pulled the horse from the fire truck” contains either a typographical error or an absurdity that deserves special attention.

In effect, rather than reading each word, efficient readers “predict” what a text might say.  As they read, they continue to confirm their predictions by moving forward and backward in the text in an effort to make sense out of words and create meaning. Poor readers, on the other hand, often get stuck on the word level, fail to use their knowledge of the world, and may continue to apply/reapply various word attack skills instead of making use of other information in the text.

The theory holds that proficient writers use similar strategies as they compose a text.  They jot down ideas and then move back and forth, revising and making changes as their ideas take shape.  Good writers know that writing is an ongoing process that includes brainstorming ideas, tentatively putting ideas on paper, organizing and revising, and finally editing, which may lead to additional writing.  While good writers focus on meaning first and only secondarily on form, poor writers tend to focus on spelling and mechanics and often plunge ahead with little consideration for how their ideas connect.

Proponents of meaning-based approaches maintain that the basic processes that are used in reading and writing are essentially the same for everyone – children, adults, native speakers, and second language learners. They hold that those new to literacy will learn best if they are taught the same strategies that proficient readers and writers use.


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