Lancaster’s Hierarchy of Reading #1


I’ve been doing a lot of research recently into reading, brain functions concerning reading, how we learn to read and how initial reading takes place.

All of this has led me to try and create a better understanding about we can help young people to become readers.

From this research the more I’ve read the more questions I end up with but also the more research I read the more I begin to believe that reading and learning to read is so much bigger than the pupil and teacher format that we have always felt existed to perfect the art of reading.

I am currently working on mapping the reading brain and understanding what a young person needs to be successful in reading. This, I hope will go some way to making it explicit about how an individual can become a reader if they are not already one and what aspects make up a successful reader.

This article however focuses more on another question I have been asking myself recently, “What conditions are needed for a young person to succeed at reading.”

This question has haunted my dreams for a while now. The more research I do, the more work I do with young people and their reading the more I begin to realise this is a massively difficult question to answer. Not only is it a question that requires a lot of thought and has so many different, difficult facets to it but it is also a question made so much more difficult by the fact that a young person who is a competent reader isn’t always a successful reader and a weak reader isn’t always an unsuccessful reader.

What I mean is that a young person who has all the characteristics of someone we would classify as being a good reader isn’t always a reader of pleasure and gain. Sometimes they are turned off from reading, sometimes their attitude (something I’ve spoken about here before) isn’t positive towards reading, sometimes there are so many other things that take up their lives they have no time for reading etc etc the list could go on.

But then you need to also factor in the weaker reader what is it they they also need to help them to achieve reading success ? And finally is there a way to be able to show all this in a visual format to help others create the right conditions to be a success?

The more I thought about it the more I was reminded of my days studying education many years ago and Abraham Maslow. Maslow always crops up in education with his hierarchy of needs. It’s hard to believe anyone working in education isn’t familiar with it as it’s implications for learning are massive.

Maslow posits that there needs to be a number of processes happening in a particular order for a person to reach self actualisation. For instance a person needs to be watered, fed etc before they can start worrying about being safe and then they need a sense of belonging before they can think about their own self esteem. If all this is in place then they become self actualised which the point where they are able to learn, be productive etc to the best of their ability.

However, and this is the important part for my own needs, is that at any moment a person may be pulled back down to a lower level if something happens to negate that level.

Now this is exactly the type of thing that my research has pointed towards with reading. There are a number of ‘levels’ that you need to work through and needs to be in place for a young person to be a ‘self-actualised’ reader as Maslow would describe it.

What I’ve therefore put together is a version of Maslow’s hierarchy in terms of reading. The hierarchy confirms the process and the conditions needed for a young person to be successful at reading.

The levels start with non-cognitive skills that play and ever increasingly important role in our understanding of learning. Attitudes etc towards a desired outcome seems the most sensible place to start and the area that needs to be worked on first before anything can be achieved. Maslow had his physiological needs here and the similarities between the two are obviously there.

Next is the awareness section. An ability for a young person to be aware of the opportunities that exist for reading. It is this level that demands engagement, participation and effort. A desire to be involved in the act of reading and to take the opportunities that exist.

After this is Motivation and Mastery. Once a young person has the right attitude, is engaged in reading support needs to be given to motivate them, to improve their self-efficacy and to give them mastery of the act of reading.

After this is the the social responsibility that society has around reading. It is the accumulation of all the preceding levels where a culture of reading allows a sense of belonging to something bigger, a sense of connection and an understanding that reading can mean so much more.

Levels 2,3 and 4 for me highlight the social requirements needed in regards to reading. They are my vision for the route to successful reading being bigger than the individual and the smaller, teacher-student model of learning/being successful at reading.

The final level is of course the one we aim to get all our students to as often as possible. It’s worth noting that at any time any one of these levels may see a break down which will result in a young person regressing in their reading. This, I feel is vital.

In my research I’ve also spent a lot of time reading about Alan McLean and his 3 A’s of motivation ones way to excellence. McLean posits that affiliation, agency and autonomy are the framework for creating this excellence. Affiliation is about a sense of belonging, agency which is about self-belief and efficacy and finally autonomy which he describes as gold dust being about determination to achieve and succeed. These seem to fit nicely within this model adding to it a deeper understanding in terms of creating a model which integrates excellence within it.

Having a visual representation of this, seeing what conditions are needed to achieve success in reading is therefore our own gold dust. Knowing this means that we can go a large way to helping to create the correct conditions as often as possible so our young people can as greater success in reading as possible.

I intent to look in greater detail the finer points within this model as I try to further define what and how schools can improve the things they do to achieve success in reading of their students.


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Activating the Reading Brain | readingeducator

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