Discussion of Key Terms Used Throughout This Textbook

As you read this textbook, you will find that certain key terms, which are described below, recur throughout many of the chapters. You will notice that some authors use these terms to reflect broad meanings, whereas other authors use these terms to discuss only one or two aspects of their meanings. Authors will signal to you what they mean when they use these terms so that you can understand which aspects apply to each chapter.

Language Comprehension

In this textbook, the meaning of “language comprehension” is represented by a schematic by Scarborough (2002) featured prominently in Chapters 3 and 4 of this textbook. Language comprehension consists of the interweaving of language components, including the background knowledge someone has, along with knowledge of vocabulary, language structures (e.g., grammar), verbal reasoning abilities, and literary knowledge (e.g., genres). In addition, language comprehension also includes personal aspects of comprehension, such as the experiences individuals draw upon to construct meaning (Shanahan et al., 2010).


The term “literacy” is used in this textbook to refer to a wide range of skills and abilities related to reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, and performing (National Governors Association & Council of Chief State School Officers [NGA & CCSSO], 2010), along with an array of perspectives that situate literacy within a sociocultural context. While traditional definitions of literacy have centered mostly on the ability to read and write, contemporary definitions include social practices, such as those associated with culture and power (Freire & Macedo, 1987) that are interwoven among all literacy practices, including teaching, learning, and using literacy. Furthermore, the digital age has brought forth innovative changes in how people make meaning, so the term literacy also includes making meaning from different modes of communication, which are described next.


In this textbook, the term “modes” is consistent with how the term is used in the New London Group (1996), who defined modes to include traditional expressions of meaning such as spoken and written language, as well as other forms of expression, including “Visual Meanings (images, page layouts, screen formats); Audio Meanings (music, sound effects); Gestural Meanings (body language, sensuality); Spatial Meanings (the meanings of environmental spaces, architectural spaces); and Multimodal Meanings” (p. 80), which involve integration of the other modes.

Reading Comprehension

The meaning of “reading comprehension” in this textbook is based on a definition by the RAND Reading Study Group (Snow, 2002) and was also featured in an influential reading comprehension practice guide released by Institute of Education Sciences (Shanahan et al., 2010). This definition includes “the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language” (Snow, 2002, p. xiii) and the “capacities, abilities, knowledge, and experiences” one brings to the reading situation (p. 11).


In this textbook, the term “text” refers not only to printed documents but other forms of communication in which a listener, speaker, reader, writer, or viewer can make meaning of a message. While many chapter authors refer to texts as printed documents, other authors use the term to refer to more diverse modes of communication, including:

The social and cultural linkages among our reading of books, viewing of films and television, screening of videos, surfing the web, playing computer games, seeing advertising billboards, and even wearing T-shirts and drinking from coffee mugs that belong to multimedia constellations. (Lemke, 2005, p. 4)