Once reading becomes an automatic process, it feels effortless. … Skilled readers are rarely conscious of coordinating the cognitive processes involved in reading.(Ashby & Rayner, 2006: 52)
When we recognize the complexity of reading, its multiple purposes, and its many properties, it becomes clear that the cognitive processes that operate when we read must also be complex. It is precisely this processing complexity that has led researchers to examine reading in terms of its component skills and knowledge bases. Over the past 25 years, significant progress has been made in understanding how component skills work together to build reading comprehension. These component skills provide a clear picture of the fluent reading process and are also essential for understanding appropriate implications for instruction (Adams, 1990; Koda, 2005; Perfetti, 1999; Perfetti, Landi, & Oakhill, 2005; Pressley, 2006; Rapp et al., 2007; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Stanovich, 2000).
In this chapter, we outline lower-level processes, including word recognition, syntactic parsing, and meaning encoding as propositions (more formally, semantic-proposition encoding). We also introduce working memory as the locus of this processing activity since working memory is fundamental to understanding these processes. Describing certain skills as “lower-level” does not mean that they are simple or undemanding; rather, they form a group of skills that have the potential to become strongly automatized, and this automatizing of lower-level skills is a requirement for fluent reading (Anderson, 2000a; Hulstijn, 2001; Koda, 2005; Stanovich, 1990, 2000).
In the next chapter, we outline higher-level processing, including text-model formation (what the text is about), situation-model building (how we decide to interpret the text), inferencing, executive-control processing (how we direct our attention), and strategic processing.