Cognitive Issues in Reading

This chapter helps explain how fluency and automaticity emerge as incremental outcomes of the implicit learning system, why extensive exposure to print is a crucial goal for reading development (to provide continual implicit learning opportunities and ncremental growth of reading abilities), and how reading, and learning from texts, is supported by attentional processing, inferencing, and background knowledge of many types. These concepts and underlying cognitive processing systems are not solely involved in reading-comprehension processing; rather, they are key to all aspects of learning (including all aspects of language learning). Each of the following concepts and cognitive systems is critical for understanding the central role of cognition in reading comprehension:

  1. Implicit and explicit learning
  2. Frequency, associative learning, co-occurrence, and emergence
  3. Attention, noticing, and consciousness
  4. Inferencing
  5. The role of context in L2 reading
  6. The role of background knowledge in L2 reading

The importance of these cognitive concepts for reading cannot be overestimated. They constitute the foundations of learning theory for all cognitive and educational psychology. They provide the basis not only for how reading comprehension works, but also for how it develops.

Implicit and explicit learning

These two learning and memory systems explain how lower-level processing can often be authomatic and be carried out simultaneously alongside active main idea comprehension and text-meaning interpretation.

Implicit learning involves the incremental growth of habitual associative knowledge, the tacit learning of co-occurence patterns in the input we perceive.  Whereas, explicit learning applies to all levels of L2 reading skills and language resources, but it is especially important as the foundation for higher-level processes in readig. Explicit learning is the means whereby more complex, attentional comprehension processes can be thaught and learning.

Frequency, associative learning, co-occurrence, and emergence

Ellis presents a wide array of empirical evidence to show that individual differences can be related to the frequency with which processing routines are practiced, and the frequencies with which individual words, phrases, and syntactic structures appear in the input.

Attention, noticing, and consciousness

Attention is a set of processes (e.g., alertness, orientation, selection, preconscious registration, facilitation). Attentional processes are particularly important for explicitely learning new information and registering this new information in the episodic buffer. Attentional processes also provide the link between research on discourse processing and reading-strategy use. Reading strategies require conscious attention when they are applied to text comprehension difficulties or problems with learning from texts.

Attentional processing drives many cognitive processes that are critical for reading comprehension but they are also used for many types of cognitive processing beyond basic comprehension. These are all attentional processes that are important for reading comprehension and for a range of other cognitive rocesses as well.


Inferencing is one of the fundamental cognitive mechanisms that connect what we are currently attempting to understand with memory resources that provide our background knowledge.

The role of context in L2 reading

Skilled readers’ use of context is limited by their basic fluent abilities in identifying words. It is less skilled readers who use contexts to identify words simply because their context-free word identification skills are not up to the task of reading.

Context important roles in the development of both the text model of comprehension and the situation model of reading interpretation.

The role of background knowledge in L2 reading

Background knowledge is widely recognized as a major factor in reading comprehension processes. Reading comprehension is basically a combination of text input, appropriate cognitive processes, and the information that we already know.



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