1 Reading as meaning making
Reading and writing are extraordinary phenomena; the capacity to use language to communicate with people across time and space has been fundamental to civilisation. Reading enriches the lives of individuals and benefits communities and societies. It is estimated that 86% of the world’s adult population are now literate (UNESCO, 2017).
Traditionally, reading has been thought of as the ability to decipher a written script with decoding skills and word comprehension. However, since the turn of the millennium, there have been considerable developments in the ways in which reading, and learning to read, are theorised. Reading is, in part, about cracking the alphabetic code, yet when viewed from a ‘sociocultural perspective’, reading (and writing) can also be thought of as a social practice, something that people do to participate in everyday life. You read in order to undertake activities, build social relations, achieve goals, develop knowledge, understand the world and imagine different possibilities.
It follows that when viewed from a sociocultural perspective, reading is essentially a process of meaning making. The words and images in the text do not simply transmit ideas or information, the reader must actively construct meaning from them.
The meaning you generate from a text depends on your purposes for reading it. For example, it may give specific information (e.g. a train timetable) or it may be more heuristic, evoking questions and further thinking (e.g. a political opinion piece). The meaning may be interactional in that it stimulates connections and social relationships (e.g. emails, cards, social media), or it may be imaginative, enabling the reader to explore ideas and fictional worlds (e.g. novels, poetry). In the next section you’ll consider this in more detail by contemplating the question ‘what counts as reading?’