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What are the advantages and disadvantages of the cognitive view of reading?

advantages and disadvantages of top down

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Cognitive reading perspective is predicated on two twin legs of comprehension contributing to reading comprehension. The one is language comprehension, which permits understanding representations of language as recognizable meaning. The other is decoding comprehension, which is the recognition of written code representations of words. Both comprehensions are necessary for reading comprehension. Decoding comprehension is deliberately learned beginning at school-age while language comprehension is situationally learned beginning from infancy, probably from birth or before. Therefore decoding comprehension is the harder of the two for school age children when they are learning reading comprehension in their first, home language. A disadvantage, then of cognitive reading perspective is that if the child has inhibitors that restrict decoding acquisition, such as some degree of dyslexia, decoding comprehension will be inhibited as will reading comprehension. An advantage is that half of the reading comprehension paradigm is already in place when learning reading comprehension is begun. 

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The best way to teach children to read has been a long running controversy in education.  While many advocated the top-down approach and others support the bottom-up model, the best strategy probably includes a happy medium of both approaches. 

In the top-down approach, the student's reading is influenced by their previous knowledge and expectations.  Many educators emphasize that this strategy can help struggling readers because the brain naturally anticipates which words the reader will process next and takes in only enough visual cues to confirm their anticipatory guess or hypothesis.  In this kind of model, reading becomes a "psycholinguistic guessing game" (qtd. in Blackwell Guide to Linguistics).  One advantage to the top-down reading theory is that the brain processes the words faster, increasing reading speed. 

One disadvantage of this approach to reading is that while students "train" their brain to anticipate words and fill in the gaps, it can result in an incomplete reading of the text, especially if the students skip important words or incorrectly guessed on the completion of thoughts or phrases, whereas in the bottom-up approach, students use each word to build meaning.




Treiman, Elizabeth.  "Reading." Blackwell Guide to Linquistics. Blackwell, 2001. Web. 17 Jan. 2013.


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One advantage of a cognitive view of reading is that it results in more interesting lessons, and therefore hopefully more effective student learning.   Reading is about meaning making, as opposed to sounding out letters.

[Being] fully competent in a language but having no ability to recognize its written words will not allow successful reading comprehension. (

At the same time, this view of reading requires something beyond phonics readers.  What does it matter if all of the words have the same sound, if the story makes no sense?

For example, Nancie Atwell believes that reading is a social activity, and part of the meaning making of learning happens when kids talk about books together.

Students, like adults, value their social relationships, and it is natural and beneficial to collaborate with others.  (enotes)

So a cognitive view of reading can be useful to teachers who want to try something different and more meaningful in their classrooms.

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