Once the child has had the indirect preparation to reading, the child begins the reading Exercises. The child, who enters reading in an explosive manner, will not necessarily spend as much time on the reading Exercises as another child might. Once he has had a lot of reading practice from phonetic reading to full reading, the child will have arrived at a stage of accomplishment where he is ready for the deeper exploration of the language. Montessori calls this, “total reading”, otherwise called interpretive reading.
Total reading describes the level at which reading is done with ease. At this level the reader can get accurate information, can communicate fully, and can read for pleasure. Total reading, is the complete comprehension and interpretation of the thoughts of another. The four important aspects to total reading are as follows:
All of these aspects require a broad vocabulary and the knowledge of the structure of language. It rests on an understanding of what language is and on the appreciation of its beauty and power. A total reader can therefore be touched by the words of another.
Arrival at this level of reading enables the reader to make critical judgment of the language itself and of the content of what was written. The reader can identify style and enjoy various styles. He can find the humor, the argument, the portrayal, and the logic of the author. The reader can appreciate good expression based on his knowledge of vocabulary and the grammatical structure of the language.
The progression of experiences in Montessori prepares the child for total reading. There is first a focus of the meaning of each word. Then the function of words is examined. The order and relationship in phrases gives further understanding, and finally the importance of emotion is noted and the capacity to receive it is developed.
Children who explode into reading are usually intuitive readers, who rely on their knowledge of language, which is absorbed through their richness on words. These children understand the context and content of the text. They are capable of self-correction. This comes from the absorption of correct language.
From the oral work, the child absorbs classification, context, a sense of content, and the structure of correct language. The child will also absorb the various modes of language and its many uses. Classification will also come with the classification of groups of words. The child then becomes familiar with words from a familiar group. This will help the child in his later reading of word recognition, which will make it easier for him to read.
The first group of experiences will be for the function of words. These focus on the parts of speech, their functions, their relationship with other words, and their order in phrases and sentences. Another group of experiences will be for reading analysis. In these, the child will discover the structure of sentences, the parts of a sentence, and the order and relationship of these parts. All of the experiences in these two groups enable the child to know correct structure and will help with comprehension. In some Exercises there will be acting out of the words read. This leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the word itself and of what it gives to the total text. There will also be additional work in word study where the child will become aware of some of the interesting vocabulary that we have in our language.
Total reading is the arrival of a skill, which is a necessary social tool. This skill will not only be used in reading books, but in every day communication. The child deserves to have a good preparation so that this level of reading can be easily attain and can serve for the rest of his life. Teachers and parents must talk and read to children. They must offer opportunities for exploration of the home language in oral and written forms. If the child is able to reach the level of total reading, he will have also arrived at the level where he will truly enjoy reading. Arrival at the total reading level depends upon absorption for a varied and rich language environment, which the Montessori classroom strives to give to each child.