Chapter 3 of The Reading Mind, “Reading at a Glance”: Summary, Implications and Discussion Questions


  • Experienced readers have distinct representations for three aspects of each word: the sound, the spelling, and the meaning. These representations are distinct, but tightly linked, so that thinking of one makes it easy to think of the other two.
  • Experienced readers can access meaning from print either by sounding words out or by matching the spelling on the page to an orthographic representation in the mind.
  • Experienced readers typically use both pathways to word meaning simultaneously as they read.
  • Orthographic representations of words help you identify letters, even as letter identification helps you know which word you’re reading; the two processes are reciprocal.
  • When readers can read by spelling as well as by sound, decoding requires less attention, which leaves more attention available for the work of comprehension.
  • Spelling representations develop through reading.


  • It seems at least plausible that you would use the same orthographic representations to read and to write. Thus we might expect that instruction in the spelling of words would help orthographic representations develop. Indeed, evidence shows that such instruction does improve reading. So that’s a reason to include spelling instruction in schools, even though we all use word processors with spell-checkers.
  • If orthographic representations develop through self-teaching, then they won’t develop as well if children don’t get proper feedback. That is, if a child sees “bear” but sounds it out as beer, that’s going to slow progress in developing the right orthographic representations, That, in turn, suggests that this aspect of reading practice will be more effective if students read aloud, rather than silently, at least until they can sound words out pretty reliably. The quality of feedback they receive matters too—gains are larger when an adult provides feedback than when a peer does.
  • If spelling representations help students read with greater prosody, then it might be helpful for students to have a model of what prosodic reading should sound like.

Discussion Questions

  • I said that the seemingly rule-less system of English spelling makes more sense if you take context into account. How many of these contextual rules do you think students are taught? Should they learn about them implicitly, as they gain experience in reading? Do you think most teachers explicitly know most of these rules?
  • How does the reciprocal nature of letter-reading and word-reading provide insight into why proofreading is so difficult?
  • People acquire all sorts of expertise that is primarily visual. For example, judges at dog shows have expertise in the desired looks of particular breeds and would notice subtle distinctions that most of us would miss. You can think of reading by orthography as a similar sort of visual expertise. How do you suppose someone like a dog show judge gains their expertise? Does this make you think about teaching reading differently or confirm what you already thought?
  • What are some of the ways that writers signal particular prosody? For example, in the sentence “Steve gave Pascual the ball,” how would you signal to a reader that the important message in this sentence is that it was Steve who did this, not someone else, as the reader might have thought? Although there are some ways to signal prosody, there’s nothing close to a complete system to do so. Why not? Why don’t we all learn a system of marks (as some languages use accent marks) that signal changes in emphasis, tempo, and pitch?
  • I’ve emphasized that adding orthographic representations results in smaller attention demand for decoding, leaving more attention available for comprehending what you’re reading. What else requires attention during reading? What types of texts are especially attention-demanding? What do readers choose to do as the read that draws attention away from the act of reading? How much does it matter?”

Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.

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