Reading Development

Top-down model

If a person reads or hears the following sentence -
“She combed her ... “
And fills in the rest of the sentence before seeing or hearing “hair” or “long auburn hair”, then that is Top-down. The thought of meaning is content oriented or concept-driven where the brain is filling in the sentence or telling the eye what to see or look for.

The Top down model suggest a process of understanding begins within the mind as the person attempts to understand a communication: text words, visual images, spoken words or other sounds, physical actions. It is meaning driven based on assumptions and inferences (evidence and reasoning) initiated by the individual. Identify letters, words, lines, actions, sounds based on personal understanding brought to the transaction. Transactions are driven by meaning making. Meaning can be brought to a piece of literature or work of art not derived from print, sounds, lines, or actions. Understanding moves from whole ideas to parts used to communicate those ideas.

She turned and ran from the growling dog looking for a way to escape when she saw a low hanging ------- (limb, fire escape, … )

Bottom-up model

If a person reads or hears the following sentence -
“She combed her long auburn hair. “
And there is no thinking ahead only concentration on each word, struggling with each meaning, or each word popping into their mind assisted with the letters on the page or sounds in their ear, then that is Bottom-up.

The Bottom up model suggests a process of understanding begins with the feeding of bits of information into the mind like a conveyor belt with the person interpreting the bits: text, words, phrases, visual images, spoken words, other sounds, or physical actions. There is no need to make predictions about the letters or word as information is rapidly and efficiently feed as needed so the brain does not need to tell the eyes or ears what information is needed. You may use or ignore the words supplied.

Role of Context

In the sentence...
“The Pirates scored two runs in the first inning.”
The context comes into play after the word “runs” has been decoded or located.
There was no need to consciously sort through all thirty of the different meanings for the word run, only one was reference in your brain to derive meaning from this sentence. Context suppressed all other meanings of run and accepted only what made sense. The idea of bowel problems didn't enter your conscious thought at all. Well, not until now anyway ... Sorry!

In reality what probably feeds the debate between the two models is that both have legitimate use. The ultimate goal is to develop skill in decoding so that information can be feed into the mind quickly and efficiently as the conveyor belt analogy suggests, in the bottom up model. However, if the brain is capable of decoding the information and have sufficient attention in reserve to comprehend and reflect on that comprehension, then a top down model can be used to explain how the brain can interpret and analyze the information being provided. Checking it for inconsistencies, making predictions, evaluating alternative possibilities, and standing by to shut down, review, continue, or make any number of decisions a literate person might make.

Reading includes two components:

1. Listening comprehension and 2. Word recognition. This assumes motivation and can be reduced to decoding and comprehension. Using sound-symbol relationships to translate text to sound, accessing word meanings, making connections between words and sentences, relating textual meaning to prior knowledge, and making inferences.

Four Stage model of reading development:

Emergent literacy - learn oral language, alphabet, and gain an early notion of how books and print are organized. Also aware of sounds of spoken language.
Decoding - letters and groups of letters represent the sounds they hear in spoken words. Phonics is the study of the letter-sound correspondences.
Fluency - word recognition is still in the formative stages and oral reading will become more proficient as sounds become more adult like when they attain oral reading fluency. (Second grade)
Learning the new - When oral reading fluency is attained a child gains the capacity to working on comprehension. Students that have to concentrate on too many words, are not able to comprehend. When word recognition is automatic, thinking about what it means is possible. One danger of overemphasis on decoding is some readers become excellent word callers, but have limited ability or inclination to comprehend what they read.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©