Critique the “Top-Down and Bottom-Up” Models of Reading and Outline Their Relevance to Reading Instruction

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Critique the “Top-Down and Bottom-Up” Models of Reading and Outline Their Relevance To Reading Instructions Sherry Ann Osborne

The ability to read is thought to be fundamentally important for functionality in our modern world. Nations measure the success of educational institutions by the ability to produce highly literate citizens and funding for many educational institutions in the United States and elsewhere hinges on the literacy attainment of student populations. The international demand for reading success has over the years resulted in periodic shifts in reading instruction with fervent emphasis at one point on the Top Down model of reading with an equally fervent shift to the Bottom Up model of reading instruction. Historically, these shifts are not new but an investigation into both models prove that they are both inefficient in laying sole claim to beginning reading success and that scientific based research provides more eclectic and conclusive evidence as to what is truly required for early reading success.

The Whole Word approach to the teaching of reading which emanates from the Top-Down reading model is philosophically Constructivist in nature. It therefore means that the methodologies and instructional activities are child-centred, reader-oriented and allows for a personal construction of meaning. In this logographic reading model, processing employs higher order skills in a whole to part deconstruction of the word. Chall (1967) proposes that words should be introduced through their meaning and requires sight recognition of words using Gestalt principles of shape and length. Meaning is viewed as the goal of reading and the reader uses his prior knowledge and experiences with language through semantic and syntactic cuing in order to make predictions to arrive at the meaning of words in particular contexts. The reader therefore does not use all the elements in a word for decoding but rather uses the ‘most productive cues necessary' or only the visual cues necessary to test the hypothesis (Goodman 1967, Smith 1971). An illustration of this can be appreciated in reading the sentence, “This morning at seven thirty I had toast and eggs for.............”. An accurate hypothesis according to the top-down view, would be that the next sentence in the word will be “breakfast.” The reader checks that the “b” fits into the context, which supports the hypothesis and so, does not take in the remaining letters of the word. If meaning is not derived then the reader creates a new hypothesis based on prior knowledge and continues on a trial and error basis until meaning is achieved. Goodman (1967) aptly describes the meaning-making process in this model as a 'psycholinguistic guessing game.' Proponents of this model view reading as a naturally occurring process similar to that of the human capability for language. Therefore the classroom that employs this reading model provides opportunities for risk-taking, authenticity and empowerment (Hempenstall 2009) with silent reading activities, guided reading sessions and read alouds in a print-rich environment. Reading and writing tasks are also integrated for authenticity and invented spelling is encouraged.

Criticisms for the Top Down approach to reading has mounted over the years especially as past national results have indicated an increase in the number of struggling readers at the higher grade levels. One major criticism of this approach is that it erroneously assumes that reading is an automatic transaction similar to that of innate human speech. Neuroscientist Steven Pinker (cited in The Reading Wars by Anderson 2000) states that spoken language is a human instinct while written language is not, thus indicating that children do not have the same innate predisposition for reading and writing as they do for speaking. Therefore the provision of a rich literacy environment for print immersion will not trigger an automatic reading response....
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