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Development of Reading Skills

In the mid-elementary and junior high school years, emphasis shifts from reading stories with known content to reading more difficult materials that teach the child new ideas and opinions. At this stage, silent reading for comprehension and study skills are emphasized. This shift from learning to read to reading to learn is especially important because the student must now begin to use reading skills to learn facts and concepts in social studies, science, and other subjects. Making this shift is difficult for some students, and their reading scores may increase at a slower pace than in the primary grades.

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Some educators see reading comprehension as a series of subskills, such as understanding word meanings in context, finding the main idea, making inferences about information implied but not stated, and distinguishing between fact and opinion. Published programs based on this view purport to divide reading into as many as 350 different subskills to be mastered during the elementary grades. Managing such a program, including the administration and scoring of tests for each subskill, and providing sufficient practice for each subskill can be difficult for a classroom teacher.

Some have suggested that an excessive emphasis on subskills leads to worksheets crowding out children's opportunity to experience literature. These theorists tend to treat reading comprehension as a general ability not made up of specific skills. Programs based on such theories stress broad, extensive reading; understanding of word meanings; and development of reasoning abilities.

In high school and college, reading materials become more abstract and contain a larger, more technical vocabulary. At this stage, the student not only must acquire new information but also must critically analyze the text and achieve an optimal reading rate based on the difficulty of the material and the purpose of the reading.