Reading is About Making Meaning

I want to talk to you about one of my favorite things. I want to talk to you about reading.

What is reading?

When my children were very little, even before they were born, I read to them. When they grew older, I continued to read to them. Sometimes I would be reading to my younger son, and my older son would come in. He would act like he was not a part of what we were doing. He’d pick up Ylsa and play with Ylsa, but he was listening. He liked listening to me read.

What do we do when we read? I once asked a student, “What do we do when we are reading text?”

He said, “I’m making moving in my mind.”

When we read, we draw upon the experiences that we’ve had, maybe books that we’ve read, and we create meaning.

Rosenblatt says that we create a poem. That the reader interacts with the text to create a poem.

I still remember reading in fourth grade. The teacher would have us read our social studies books or our science books. Out loud. And I would figure out which paragraphs I would be reading when it was my turn. I would count ahead and rehearse the words, because I wanted to read fluently. And perfectly. Like this other boy in our class. He was a really good reader. He knew he was.

Was that reading? Reading perfectly with no mistakes?

When you read a book to your child, do you focus on reading the words correctly? The pronunciations? Or do you focus on the meaning? If I were to read this story, this narrative, I would want to make sure that my child understood the theme. What was the problem and how was it resolved? And how did that affect the characters?

If they want to know how to pronounce a word, or if they need assistance pronouncing a word out loud, I would gladly offer that. I might ask them, “What do you think it is?”

But the focus would be on meaning. And of course, we would want to make reading a pleasant, fun experience. We want it to be something that the child wants to do. Now and again at another time.

Sometimes little children don’t want to sit still on your lap—like my dog does. The little boy might be playing with Lego, or he might be walking around. Or like my older son, he might be pretending to play with or entertain a pet. But they are listening. And they are making meaning. They are comprehending meaning. That’s what is important.

I love going to the library. Bringing home books. But I don’t always read those books from beginning to end. I read them with a purpose in mind. I’ve known many college students, who when assigned hundreds of pages to read, approach the task as though they had to read every word.

There are different purposes for reading. But when you read, remember, reading is about making meaning.

Making Meaning Video