I just came across this fascinating, inspiring and informative article about A Reading Teacher Who Lost The Ability To Read! which illustrates the difference between decoding and comprehending.
The teacher, who the article calls “M.”, suffered a series of small strokes which affected her brain.
The article explains: “The disorder is called alexia. The strokes damaged the connection between the part of M.’s brain that takes visual information from her eyes and the part that deciphers words. But M. can still understand language in other ways. She can listen to audiobooks and write stories. She still has good reading comprehension, even though she can’t read.”
Personally, the story of how M. has handled the loss of something so integral to her life and her livelihood is inspirational!
Practically, M.’s story illustrates the difference between decoding and comprehension, which combine to make what we normally refer to as “reading.”
(There are other more specific “pre-reading skills” and “subskills” as well.)
In fact, the teacher could still understand audiobooks and even write stories! (using a third skill called encoding)
She had lost the ability to decode written words but still had “good reading comprehension!”
(Actually, I wouldn’t call it reading comprehension, but rather listening comprehension. However, the point is she could comprehend but could no longer decode.)
The opposite of that is what happens when you get to the end of a sentence, paragraph or even a page or two and you don’t remember or understand what you just read.
You’ve been decoding without comprehending.
Both skills, decoding and comprehending are necessary for reading: making sense of written texts.
You can have one without the other; but one without the other is not reading.
[photo by Pink Sherbet Photography]