What is the Theory of Automaticity in Reading?

Derived from the word automatic, automaticity is of key importance for developing readers to become fully competent and fluent. It means being able to recognize and process information without really thinking about it on a conscious level - something which human beings are not born with, but rather develop as they continue to learn. When applied to reading, automaticity is the ability to look at words and read them aloud without thinking, as we are about to look at in greater depth.

All readers start off in the same position: by knowing nothing, or at least very little about letters, words and sentence structure. Knowledge acquisition is key in the reading development of a student from this point, but there are numerous stages they must progress through before they achieve complete automaticity.

One of the first steps is to look at letters and the alphabet. After this, the pupil can progress onto word building and phonemic awareness, all the time gaining an acute understanding of phonics and how they work.

By starting to combine letters and build words, the word bank of each student will expand rapidly. This, combined with an awareness of phonemes, will allow them to sound out words and ultimately, recognize them when reading. Comprehension is another instrumental skill, and is one of the final pieces of the jigsaw in becoming a basic reader. Don't misunderstand this, though; at this point, the student in question couldn't be placed under the automaticity category.

After these initial stages are complete, it takes a considerable amount of practice for significant improvements to be made to one's reading ability. With the support of a teacher in school and a supportive figure at home, the pupil will hopefully reach a point in their progression where they can naturally recall words and read them - even when they're embedded within a sentence. This is the beginning of automaticity, but progress is still necessary to be a fully automated reader.

The theory states that full automaticity requires all of the above described stages to be known in their entirety. Alongside this, heavy practice is required. After all, the only way to automatically recognize and recall words - and their meanings - is to revise them again and again, thus drilling them into a place in the brain where they will never be forgotten.

When a truly automatic reader, students will look at a page and read the words on it in sequence, without unnatural hesitations. They will understand what those words mean on a subconscious level, and won't even have to think about or give too much attention to them to absorb their meanings.

The process is a lengthy one, but most pupils will get there eventually, and all are capable if given the correct support. Patience is vital to the successful implementation of the theory; automaticity in reading requires a great deal of practice to be thoroughly installed in the memory. The beauty of such teaching is that because it is taught to such a great extent, it is highly unlikely to be forgotten in the future.