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What Is the Interactive Reading Model?

by Alicia Anthony, studioD

The Interactive Reading Model, as developed by David E. Rumelhart in 1977, describes a model of the reading process and the way linguistic elements are processed and interpreted by the brain. The model combines both surface structure systems -- the sensory, bottom-up portion of reading -- with deep structure systems -- the thinking, or top-down, aspects of reading -- to build meaning and memory for all learners.

How it Works

Readers use both knowledge of word structure and background knowledge to interpret the texts they read. For example, a student who encounters an unknown word might use surface structure systems like graphophonic, or letter-sound, knowledge to decode the word. A different student might find it easier to use deep structure systems like semantic knowledge, such as meaning and vocabulary, to decode the same unknown word. Each student makes connections in different ways. This process validates and supports both methods of understanding, realizing that individuals process information in very different ways.

Surface Structure Processing

Surface structure processing, also known as bottom-up processing, is the sensory portion of reading. This method of understanding uses knowledge of letter-sound relationships, lexical or word knowledge and syntactic or contextual understanding of the text to make meaning of previously unknown material. This type of processing can be assisted by the teaching of phonemic awareness and sentence structure skills. Students who use only surface structure approaches to understanding often find it difficult to comprehend the text.

Deep Structure Processing

Deep structure processing, also known as top-down processing, is the thinking aspect of reading. This method employs vocabulary knowledge, background knowledge and social construction to derive meaning from text. This type of processing is often easier for poor readers who might have trouble with word recognition but have knowledge of the text topic. Vocabulary instruction is imperative for these learners to build a larger pool of knowledge on which to draw when faced with unknown text.

Benefits of Interactive Model

The most evident benefit of this model is the opportunity for the differentiation that it provides students. Students are not required to fit into a set mold or have identical skill sets to decode and interpret text. They are encouraged to use their own strengths to gain understanding and new information. When used in the classroom setting, students should be encouraged to share their knowledge with classmates or peers. This model allows the reader to bring his own background knowledge to reading and to interact with others to build meaning and memory from the text.

About the Author

Alicia Anthony is a seasoned educator with more than 10 years classroom experience in the K-12 setting. She holds a Master of Education in literacy curriculum and instruction and a Bachelor of Arts in communications. She is completing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing: fiction, and working on a novel.

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