who will never have access to the literature and periodicals, or scientific and technical journals, written in the language they are learning. These publications assist them with further studies or in their work. They also enjoy reading in another language in their leisure time to keep them in touch with the wider world. Moreover, the reading skill, once developed, is the one which can be most easily maintained at a high level by the students themselves without further help from a teacher. Through it, they can increase their knowledge of the culture of the speaker of the language, their ways of thinking, their contemporary activities, and their contributions to many fields of artistic and intellectual endeavor (p.260).
Nuttall (1996) regarding the reasons for reading says that different readers read in different ways for different purposes.
Nunan (1999) provides a list of different reading materials as below:
Novel for pleasure;
Newly published poems of a colleague for pleasure and curiosity;
Skim a list of tasks to see if it accords with the work done;
Scan TESOL issue to look for a piece of information;
And for a page proofs of a listening text to find any typology errors, we read slowly and thoroughly (p.250).
So, we have different purposes and use different ways. But they all have one feature in common and that is in all of these the reader reads for meaning. Actually, reader probably wants to get the message that the writer intended. Reader is interested in what the writer meant, e.g. transfer of meaning from mind to mind or the transfer of a message from the writer to the reader.
The topic of reading is also of great social importance because it pertains to the issue of literacy. As Smith (1988) has argues, becoming a reader in any language means joining the people who read in that language, much as someone might join a club- in this case, what Smith calls “the literacy club”- devoted to some activity that he or she enjoys and would like to engage in. reading is regarded as a skill of great importance to the learner because, a) it provides him with access to a great quantity of further experience of the language, and b) it gives him a window onto the normal mean of continuing his personal education (Mirhassani & Toossi, 1996).
Furthermore, reading reinforces the learner’s other language skills. Kim and Krashen (1997) confirm that those who read more, have larger vocabularies, do better on test of grammar, write better, and spell better. Similarly, Raims (1983) asserts that “the more our students read, the more they become familiar with the vocabulary, idiom, sentence patterns, organization flow, and cultural assumptions of native speakers of the language” (p.50). Chastian (1988), while accepting the significance of reading for meaning, claims that all reading activities serve to facilitate communication fluency in each of the other language skills (p.218).
As most of foreign language learners have very little opportunity to communicate lively with foreign native speakers, reading can serve to fill this gap. Farhady, Jafarpour, and Birjandi (1994), stressing the importance of reading for EFL learners that “reading is the most important of all skills for most language learners in general and for EFL learners in particular” (p.247).
According to Eskey (1970), in advanced levels of second language the ability to read the written language at a reasonable rate and with good comprehension has long been recognized to be as important as oral skills if not more important (cited in Vahdat, 1999, p.54-55).
Hedge (2000) asserts that it is likely that a reader uses at least six types of knowledge to help him/her make sense of that text. The first two, called linguistic or systematic knowledge, are syntactic knowledge and morphological knowledge; and the other four, called schematic knowledge, are general world knowledge, sociocultural knowledge, topic knowledge, and genre knowledge.
2.1.2 Approaches to Reading Skill
Hedge (2000) refers to two very important processes in recent literature on reading. Top-down processing is used to describe the application of prior knowledge to working on the meaning of a text and bottom-up processing is used to describe the decoding of the letters, words, and other language features in the text (p. 189-190). These terms might be useful in reflecting different processes in reading, but we need to keep in mind that the processes are in constant interplay.
Chastain (1988) introduces different terms for the same processes. Data-driven processing often referred to as bottom-up processing, is a process which thought moves from specific pieces of information to more general knowledge. In contrast, the conceptually-driven processing, often referred to as top-down processing, which operates from a knowledge base to work on specific pieces of information. In a bottom-up approach the emphasis is on the language found in the reading as the basis for comprehension, but, in a top-down approach primary importance is attached to what readers know about reading and about the world in general.
Bernhardt (1984) argues that “some believe that text-base factors determine meaning, while others believe that inside-the head factors determine meaning (p.322). By this dichotomy, he meant “text-base view implies that the proper approach in teaching students to read is to teach the language forms they will need to know to be able to comprehend the meaning. While, in the inside-the head view reading comprehension rests primarily on the students’ knowledge base and that students should therefore read materials that their background knowledge permits them to comprehend”. Text-base approach is also referred to as bottom-up processing and inside-the-head model is referred to as top-down processing.
2.1.3 Reading Comprehension Theories
Reading comprehension, like any other language ability, is an abstract concept, and therefore, there have been many arguments on its nature.
For many years, language skills were classified as active and passive skills. Active skills included speaking and writing, because they provided overt evidence of language production. On the other hand, listening and reading considered as passive skills, because they did not display any apparent manifestation of language-element-production. However, this view did not last forever. Farhady (1998) explains that “with the advent of psychology and research in psycholinguistics, the long-standing position that reading comprehension was a passive skill was no longer true” (p.70). in this regard, Rivers (1981) states that “reading is sometimes referred to as a passive or receptive skill, but if we examine the abilities that come into play in fluent direct reading with comprehension of meaning, it is clear that readers are far from passive during this activity”.
Research shows that reading comprehension predicts specific course performance and even overall college performance (Royer, Marchant, Sinatra, & Lovejoy, 1990). Yet students’ ability to comprehend scientific texts is often inadequate (Snow, 2002), as reading such a text is a complex cognitive task (Nist & Holschuh, 2000). To perform this task efficiently, students must possess accessible conceptual knowledge about a particular domain and must apply text processing strategies. When the conceptual knowledge is inadequate and when the familiarity with the text is low, reading strategies are particularly important (McNamara, 2004; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1984). There is evidence that even experienced readers face some difficulty in applying elaborate comprehension strategies during reading complex scientific text (Graesser, 2007).
Contemporary to the emergence of cognitive code learning theory, scholars began to study the nature of reading as a mentalistic process. In thi
s view, two main movements developed; the first claimed that reading comprehension can be divided into many subskills, and the second maintained that reading comprehension is a general integrative ability.
220.127.116.11 Schema Theory
According to Chastian (1988), both research and theory indicate that knowledge is stored in clusters of related information. These clusters are called schema (plural of schemata), which are defined under various circumstances in the interpretation of what we experience. So, in line with the current learning theories, the brain organizes the information into related units called schemata.
Ellis (2004) asserts that research in cognitive psychology has shown that learners possess schemata, which the readers use to comprehend the text. He defines schemata as “mental structures that organize their knowledge of the world which they draw on in their interpreting text” (p.41). But, he differentiates between two types of schemata as content schemata and formal schemata. By content schemata, he meant the structures that organize our knowledge of the world, and formal schemata were defined as the structures that represent our knowledge of the different ways in which textual information can be organized.
Brown (2001) asserts that to answer such questions as: how do readers construct meaning?, how do they decide what to hold on to, and having made that decision?, how do they infer the writer’s message?; we need something what has come to be known as scheme theory, the hallmark of which is that a text does not by itself carry meaning. He declares that the reader brings information, knowledge, emotion, experience, and culture, that is, schemata, to the printed word.
Regarding the Schema Theory, Nunan (1999) states, “we do not process print as a serial, linear, step-by-step process, nor do we process point as visual tape recorders, rather we read in terms of what we already know and we integrate what we already know