Role of reading


At the outset, it must be acknowledged that we do not really know enough about reading except that it is a deeply neurological process, making great demands on the brain. Transformations due to extensive reading have been observed in the parts of brain that support the emergence of reading skill(s); reading is also linked to physical development of the brain. Broadly, the two functional parts of the brain involved in reading are –
1. the visual aspect of recognising symbols/ pictures and
2. the phonological (sound) aspects of relating to the written words.
Neuroscience has begun to understand what happens when we read, by monitoring the areas of brain stimulated while reading. There are several strands at the neurological level that we know little about, e.g. the exact play of memory in reading, how emotions play up when we read, do reasoning and problem solving skills come into play when we read.
At the same time, we take reading for granted. We do not really think about it. It is only when we have to teach someone else to read, do we see how complex reading is. Reading is certainly among the most sophisticated and demanding tasks that our brains indulge in.
The one thing we do know about reading is that it is the ‘most recent mode of acquiring knowledge’, just around 2500 years old! The three other modes of acquiring knowledge – listening (a talk), seeing (a picture) and doing (experiencing) – are as old as life on earth! Yes, all forms of life – the simplest single-celled animals to the biggest mammals – learn using either a subset or all the three modes of seeing, listening and doing.
Reading is also the most powerful of the four vehicles of learning (a subject of exploration of an independent question in this book). The authors believe that it is not too farfetched to see a link between reading and Aristotle’s timeless eminence; he is considered to the ‘first person’ to have grown up reading books (hand-written manuscripts in those days).
However, no introduction to reading is complete without understanding the research agenda on reading. Here is a sample of the same:
a. Understand the dynamic nature of reading – many aspects of reading resemble generic problem solving skills or reasoning (e.g. deducing the meaning of an unknown word in a sentence.)
b. How written words have strong visual associations to give meaning to words?
c. How a word and its sound are correlated?
To summarise, we can safely assert the following about reading:
Reading is such that it drives readers to intensively imagine, interact and even visualise the content. We also know that reading is not the treasure hunt for the main ideas but a journey with the writer. Robert Frost had once said, “Everything written is as good as it is dramatic.”

‘The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.’
— Mark Twain

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