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Three Reading Models and a Balanced Approach Case Study

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Updated: May 31st, 2019


This paper is aimed at examining three approaches to reading, namely, skills model, socio-cultural model, and psycholinguistic model. These methods are often used by modern educators. In particular, it is necessary to discuss the main premises of these frameworks and explain the main differences between them.

Apart from that, this essay should demonstrate how they can be used for the development of a balanced approach to teaching literacy. These are the main issues that should be examined in this essay.

On the whole, it is possible to say that a single model is not sufficient for explaining the process of reading and teaching literacy skills. More likely, educators should combine these frameworks in order to create a balanced approach that can better meet the diverse needs of students and contribute to their long-term development.

Skills model of reading

In many cases, teachers can take bottom-up approaches to reading. According to this perspective, this process consists of the following hierarchically-organized stages. First, one should speak about identification of letters with specific phonemes (Harris 2006, p. 6). Secondly, a reader identifies the connections between phonemes and word representations.

Finally, a person assigns meanings to words and forms associations among them (Harris 2006, p. 6). These ideas have been used for the development of teaching methods. For example, it is possible to speak about the skills model of reading. From this perspective, a student should acquire and develop a set of specific skills which are necessary for reading (Heller, 2004, p. 4).

For example, one can speak about the recognition of meaningful units such as morphemes or words (Westwood, 2001). Secondly, learners need to focus on such skills as finding letter-to-sound correspondence or comprehension of the ideas expressed by the author (Westwood, 2001).

Moreover, the task of a teacher is to develop exercises that prompt learners to use each of the reading skills (Westwood, 2001, p. 42; Heller, 2004, p. 4). Some elements of this model are widely used by educators, especially at the time when they need to teach phonic awareness or word recognition.

One can say that this model is of great use to educators, especially at the primary stages of education (Heller, 2004, p. 4). However, this approach has often been criticized because it does not take into account the reader’s background knowledge and its impact on literacy development.

Moreover, this method is not sufficient for explaining the differences in individual interpretations of the same text. Furthermore, this model can lead to the situation when students focus only drilling exercises without being able to interpret the text or reflect upon its major ideas (Heller, 2004, p. 4). Therefore, they can become averse to reading in the long term.

Top-down approaches

Psycholinguistic model

Additionally, one can speak about top-down approaches. They imply that a reader makes hypotheses on the basis of brief text samples. Furthermore, these hypotheses are based on his/her knowledge of grammar or vocabulary (Kucer, 2009). Moreover, according to this perspective, effective reading involves such cognitive processes as memorizing or contextual understanding of words and phrases.

Overall, this approach can be exemplified with the help of the psycholinguistic model which can also be adopted by teachers. It is premised on the assumption that students tend to make and test predictions while reading (Hill, 2006, p. 142). For example, they can make guesses about the meaning of words, short phrases, sentences, as well as the entire text (Birch, 2006, p. 7).

The main issue is that they may not necessarily read every sentence, world, or letter. As a rule, they rely on their background knowledge while making conjectures about the content of the text (Taylor 2008, p. 30). It should be kept in mind that this model is often used by teachers working with ESL students who may not know the meaning of every word or phrase (Taylor 2008, p. 30).

Thus, they have to make assumptions about the possible meaning of lexical or syntactic units (Williams, 2003). In this case, a teacher should pay close attention to students’ background knowledge because in this way, one can anticipate the difficulties that learners can face.

It is necessary to compare psycholinguistic and skills model. The supporters of psycholinguistic model such Kenneth Goodman recognize the necessity for well-developed reading skills (Goodman, 1973, p. 263). However, there are important distinctions that should not be disregarded. For instance, according to skills model, reading is a sequential process.

In turn, a learner can fully recognize a word only when he/she can recognizes each of its letters. Similarly, the meaning of the world is derived only at the time when one can see its syntactic relations with other lexemes within a sentence.

In turn, the advocates of psycholinguistic model challenge this assumption. For example, they argue that readers tend to make a hypothesis about the meaning of a text without reading each of the sentences (Taylor 2008, p. 30). If students believe that their predictions are not correct, they have to read some parts of the text once again. Overall, these models can effectively supplement one another.

Socio-cultural model

Furthermore, it is important to examine the socio-cultural model of reading which is also of great values to modern educators. This method has been advocated by such scholars as Allan Luke and Peter Freebody (1997) who advocate the idea of multiple literacies.

According to this approach, while interpreting the meaning of a text, learners rely on their background knowledge, worldviews, attitudes, beliefs, and so forth (Konza, 2006, p. 50). To a great extent, their understanding can be affected by socio-cultural context or identity of a student (Hammerberg, 2004).

This is one of the main premises that are incorporated in this model. Therefore, teachers should be aware about socio-cultural differences that shape the development of literacy. This task is of great importance to Australian society which is very diverse in terms culture.

Apart from that, readers first attempt to understand the purpose of the text, because this knowledge can help them evaluate the main idea that the writer wants to express. Moreover, they tend to reflect on the context in which a certain text can be written.

For example, readers should bear in mind that the texts written for digital media can differ from those ones which are intended for printed press (Collins, 2003, p. 174). Overall, socio-cultural model emphasizes the importance of context. According to this model, there are multiple literacies (Collins, 2003, p. 174).

For example, a reader should know how written language is used by the representatives of various cultural groups. This knowledge can enable a student to understand the major ideas of a text (Collins, 2003, p. 174). Secondly, he/she should be aware of how technologies changed written communication.

It is possible to discuss the similarities of this method with skills and psycholinguistic model. Similar to psycholinguistic model, socio-cultural method is based on the importance of background knowledge. The main peculiarity of this model is that it does not focus only on linguistic competence of the reader.

Much attention should be paid to reader’s understanding of culture and society. Thus, one can say that the socio-cultural approach incorporates an extended notion of background knowledge. This is the main aspect that distinguishes this approach from psycholinguistic model. Apart from that, this method recognizes such a notion as decoding skills.

The use of theories for the development of the balanced approach

The models, which have been discussed in the previous section, can supplement one another, and they can be used for developing a balanced approach to reading. In this context, the term balanced approach is used to describe a method that incorporates the development of separate skills and ability to understand the meaning of a text (Westwood, 2001, p. 47).

Yet, the balanced approach is not a mere combination of top-down and bottom-up techniques. Educators should remember that teaching should be child-centered (Westwood, 2001, p. 48). This is the main principle that should be considered. This method incorporates various theoretical frameworks and models (Brooks, Fisher, & Lewis, 2004, p. 220).

It implies that educators should attach more importance to the observations that they make in the classroom (Cohen & Cowen, 2007, p. 37). In this way, teachers can better evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different theories. These are the main principles that underlie the balanced approach (Winch et al., 2012).

To a great extent, the balanced approach established in Austria reflects these models. For example, according to these requirements, teachers should focus on the development of phonics and decoding skills (NSW Department of School Education 1997, p. 12). Such a strategy is widely used in primary schools. This requirement is a reflection of skills model which is necessary for the development of many reading exercises.

Apart from that, students are taught various strategies that can help them to understand the meaning of the text (NSW Department of School Education 1997, p. 244). They should be able to make predictions about the arguments expressed by the author. This requirement originates from psycholinguistic model. This approach is also beneficial for the needs for ESL students.

Furthermore, the balanced approach incorporates the idea of multiple literacies (Maltais, 2008). In other words, readers should learn more about cultural or social knowledge that is essential for interpreting written communication. Additionally, learners are encouraged to use their background knowledge about the topic (NSW Department of School Education 1997, p. 12).

They should understand the peculiarities of written communication in digital or print media (Amant, 2007). To a great extent, this requirement originates from socio-cultural model which became popular several decades ago. Furthermore, much emphasis is placed on such a notion as intertextuality (Baker, 2004).

This term implies that the meaning of a word, phrase, or sentence may not be understood if a person is not familiar with the relations between different texts. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about the use of quotations (Baker, 2004). On the whole, the balanced approach incorporates the elements of different models.


Overall, this discussion shows that one cannot develop a universal model that can fully explain every aspect of the reading process. The attempts to find this approach are more likely to be futile. Furthermore, teaching literacy cannot be based on a single theory. Instead, one can argue that there are different theories which can effectively supplement one another.

This argument is particularly relevant to socio-cultural model, skills model, and psycholinguistic model. They can be used for developing various cognitive processes that are related to reading. Additionally, they are necessary for the life-long learning of a person. These are the main points that can be made.

Reference List

Amant, K. (2007). Linguistic and cultural online communication issues in the global age. New York, NY: Information Science Reference.

Baker, M. (2004). Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. New York, NY: Routledge.

Birch, B. (2006). English L2 Reading: Getting to the Bottom. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Brooks, G., Fisher, R.,& Lewis, M. (2004). Raising Standards in Literacy. New York, NY: Routledge.

Cohen, V., & Cowen, J. (2007). Literacy for Children in an Information Age: Teaching Reading, Writing, and Thinking: Teaching Reading, Writing, and Thinking. New York, NY: Cengage Learning.

Collins, J. (2003). Literacy and Literacies: Texts, Power, and Identity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Goodman, K. (1973). The Psycholinguistic Nature of the Reading Process. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

Hammerberg, D. (2004). Comprehension instruction for socioculturally diverse classrooms: A review of what we know. The Reading Teacher, 57(7), 648-658.

Harris, P. (2006). Reading in the primary school years. Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia.

Heller, M. (1999). Reading-Writing Connections: From Theory to Practice. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Hill, S. (2006). Developing early literacy: assessment and teaching. New York, NY: Eleanor Curtain Publishing.

Konza, D. (2006). Teaching Children with Reading Difficulties. Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia.

Kucer, S. (2009). Dimensions of Literacy: A Conceptual Base for Teaching Reading and Writing in School Settings. New York, NY: Routledge.

Luke, A., & Freebody, P. (1997). Constructing Critical Literacies: Teaching and Learning Textual Practice. New York, NY: Allen & Unwin.

Maltais, C. (2008). Perspectives on Multiple Literacies: International Conversations. New York, NY: Detselig Enterprises.

NSW Department of School Education. (1997). Teaching Reading: A K-6 Framework. Web.

Taylor, M. (2008). Orthographic and Phonological Awareness Among L1 Arabic ESL Learners: A Quasi-experimental Study. New York: ProQuest.

Westwood, P. (2001). Reading and Learning Difficulties: Approaches to teaching and assessment. Camberwell, Victoria: The Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd.

Williams, J. (2003). Preparing To Teach Writing: Research, Theory, and Practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L., & Holliday, M. (2012). Literacy: reading, writing and children’s literature. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press.

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