Vocabularly: The Simple View of Reading (part 3)
Vocabularly: The Simple View of Reading (part 3)

Vocabularly: The Simple View of Reading (part 3)

During his podcast with Emily Hanford, Greg fleetingly referenced the “The Simple View of Reading” (Gough & Tunmer 1986). There was a audible acknowledgement of common ground and so the conversation continued unabated. What is “The Simple View of Reading?” I didn’t know. So far in my reading, it was clear that reading was anything other than simple.

Turns out, that “The Simple View of Reading” is a formula, a formula that outlines that reading is a product of two complex, but separable processes:

  • Word reading: the ability to recognise, decode and understand the meaning of individual written words.
  • Language comprehension: a multidimensional process used to access the underlying meaning of spoken and written language. Integrating knowledge, word meanings and syntax, and making inferences.

So not so simple. Complex-simple.

Here it is again. Simpler. But still not simple.

Decoding (D) X Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC)

The Simple View of Reading makes it clear that:

  • strong reading comprehension cannot occur unless both decoding skills and language comprehension abilities are strong
  • decoding and language comprehension skills are separable for both assessment and teaching, although both are required to achieve reading comprehension.

I found that this diagram from the EEF practically useful – as I could places different learners and various individual differences / groups, in each of the four quadrants. At the end of the EEF document was a reference to Ricketts et al., “under revision” research.

However, lets not forget that i is not a model. It does not explain how decoding and linguistic comprehension operate or how they develop.

The EEF report on the “Simple View” goes on to report:

most pupils will have average or above word reading and reading comprehension for their age and will benefit from activities that further develop their comprehension skills. However, around 4 or 5 children in an average class of 30 will show below average word reading, these children may benefit from interventions targeted at promoting word reading. Again, approximately 4 or 5 children will show below average reading comprehension and may benefit from reading comprehension interventions. Some of these children will show difficulty with one area and not the other, and others with both.

EEF – Simple View of Reading

From the EEF paper to Dr Ricketts discussing her own research here. What does look like in Secondary Schools? Dr Ricketts presents her own data below. I added the two coloured blocks to highlight below average reading comprehension and word reading, also helping to represent the four quadrants.

In that presentation it will come as no surprise that Dr Ricketts’ presents a “Slightly less simple view of reading,” here – thought it looks rather complex.

As shared in the presentation

Theories of skilled reading are among the most elaborate and well-specified in the field of psychological science.

Castles, Anne & Rastle, Kathleen & Nation, Kate. (2018).

Here is a second from David Kilpatrick

David Kilpatrick

I was fairly confident that literary reading was far from simple and there are three more components (speaking, listening and writing have had to take a back seat).

Dr Ricketts’ adds a few other data snippets, shockingly PISA reports 20% of 15 year olds read below “acceptable standards,” (PISA 2015; Jerrim & Shure, 2016).

So what?

Dr Ricketts focuses our attention on the bottom 10% of 15 year olds, who are somewhat adrift from their peers, where their reading ability inhibits them from accessing the curriculum – reading at the level of an average 9 year old. In much the same way the some of my students comprehension of the Hound of the Baskervilles is inhibited by their breadth of word reading (even though we read the text aloud) and their comprehension (vocabulary and knowledge), or both.

Curiously, falling down the rabbit hole of “The Simple View of Reading,” led me read two essential articles, dare I say it, for all educators. Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert – instant Professional Learning. Just the “Becoming a Skilled Word Reader” is well worth the hour. Second, Language is literacy is language. Would it surprise you to learn, that I finished back where I started? The importance of reading comprehension and vocabulary (arguably word knowledge) in Secondary schools and… disciplinary literacy. As far as I understand the statistical analysis, Ricketts’ research shows an extremely high correlation between reading comprehension and vocabulary intercepts, alternatively, there is no evidence for separating the two.

That language is reading and reading is vocabulary.

Dr Ricketts – I believe.

I plan to avoid rabbit holes and red pills for the rest of the week.

So what next?

  1. Rising tides: Teachers need to know about and apply the work of Ricketts, Snow, Beck and Coxhead.
  2. We need to systematically identify which learners have which challenges or combinations of challenges. What would be the easiest, least intrusive way to collect three measures of word reading, reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge?


Five signposted resources and one nugget:

Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert – instant Professional Learning. “Becoming a Skilled Word Reader” is well worth the hour.

Snow, P (2016) Elizabeth Usher Memorial Lecture: Language is literacy is language: Positioning speech language pathology in education policy, practice, paradigms, and polemics. International Journal of Speech Language Pathology 18: 216–28.

Reading is a verb. Literacy is not.

Pamela Snow

If research papers are less your thing – then Pamela Snow writes here. It was from Pamela’s blog I learnt about her work “SOLAR” the Science of Language and Reading and orthography and the idea that seeing the spelling of the word helps to facilitate learning of the orthography, phonology and semantics of that word.

Also encountered whilst on this diversion Bridging the Word Gap at Transition. The Oxford Language Report 2020

And who knew… Mathew has a friend – Peter. The Peter Effect. It refers to the story of the Apostle Peter, who, when asked for money by a beggar, stated that he could not give what he himself did not have. When applied, The Peter Effect refers to when teachers, who are expected to convey an enthusiasm for writing or (reading), do not possess it themselves.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Rewordify & Verbalworkout


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