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Boon's ally Professor Mark Seidenberg has graciously allowed us to present a modified version of his Proposed Requirements for Licensure as a Certified Skilled Reader, found in chapter 6 of his important book, Language at the Speed of Sight.

What if there were Standards that defined skilled reading? If we can codify the skills required to become a plumber, can’t the same be done for reading?

For example:

  • All students must have achieved age-appropriate proficiency in a spoken language.

Reading-relevant expertise:

Knowledge of orthographic structure and relations between written and spoken language, including how written words are pronounced and how spoken words are written

  • The ability to recognize a large vocabulary of printed words quickly and accurately, including academic vocabulary
  • Extended knowledge of the meanings of vocabulary words, including multiple meanings and senses, and the ability to interpret them correctly in context.
  • Knowledge of the kinds of phrases and sentence structures in which words commonly occur, including literal and figurative expressions
  • Ability to comprehend sentence structures of varying as they are read, as well as the larger structures created from sequences of sentences (paragraphs, sections, articles, chapters, books), making necessary links within and across levels:
  • Ability to recognize lapses in comprehension and perform simple repairs
  • Possession of background knowledge relevant to understanding a broad range of topics
  • Ability to vary depth of reading comprehension and textual engagement in accordance with goals
  • A student must also have completed an extended apprenticeship consisting of several thousand hours of eyes-on reading experience.

To qualify, the skilled reader must exhibit additional expertise, such as ability to infer the meanings of unfamiliar words using knowledge of morphological structure and distributional statistics; ability to analyze texts to achieve deeper understanding of content, style, and implications; familiarity with multiple types of texts (including narrative, expository, persuasive, and at least two others); and additional expertise, depending on the master reader’s area of specialization.

Within each of the major areas of expertise, the skilled reader would need to demonstrate competence in a large number of sub-skills. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment for eighth graders incorporates thirty-two sub-skills, ranging from “use global understanding of the article to provide explanation” to “use understanding of character to interpret author’s purpose.”

The Common Core standards for English language arts are, in essence, an attempt to codify the requirements for reading at each grade level from K to 12. The requirements get very specific: [Individual demonstrates ability to] cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain. (Grade 11–12) If I were asked to propose a standard for reading beyond the twelfth-grade level, it would be “Demonstrates ability to comprehend the Common Core standards for reading.”

Having completed a rigorous course of training, engaged in extended apprentice reading, and achieved the Standard, the skilled reader could be issued a document in formats suitable for framing and posting:

On a more playful note:

The skilled reader shall be able to read and comprehend text presented by means of traditional paper formats, as well as screen-based media including smartphones, tablets, phablets, laptops, and Netflix subtitles. The reader may be called upon to read in school or employment settings and so must be capable of maintaining sufficient attention to comprehend long-form documents such as the Telemarketing Employee’s Handbook and the thicker Harry Potter books.

The skilled reader demonstrates proficiency at reading jacket blurbs and exhibits good judgment in deciding whether to wait until the book is available at the public library or to buy it in hardback, paperback, audio, or digital format, or perhaps secondhand if the shipping charge is not exorbitant. A skilled reader will have had several thousand hours of textual experience, excluding low-literacy activities such as browsing online dating profiles.

A skilled reader may be called upon to read to children with the expectation that none of the important words will be skipped or changed.

Finally, a skilled reader is capable of reading on airplanes in coach even when it is hard to turn the page without elbowing the person in the next seat. Responsibilities of the skilled reader include updating personal language statistics without conscious awareness and maintaining a tidy orthographic network.

Mark Seidenberg is the author of Language at the Speed of Sight, and Vilas Research Professor and Donald O. Hebb Professor in the department of psychology at the University of Wisconsin.