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Literacy skills are about communication, and so they intrinsically involve the communicating and extraction of meaning. Interpretation is the process by which people are able to listen to complex sounds, or look at marks on a page, and transform them into complex social meanings. As such the activity involves a whole series of interpretive steps, which must be shared, accurate, and efficient to support the full range of literacy practices that characterize our society.

Interpretation is a process that requires people to make connections between different types of mental representations. They must decode the physical representation of the text to obtain linguistic units (words, phrases, and sentences). They must parse the words and phrases to comprehend the literal meaning of the text. They must integrate all the pieces of the text to form a coherent representation, enrich the resulting mental model by relating it to prior knowledge, and situate the resulting understanding within the social context and rhetorical purpose that led the author to produce the text in the first place. The more fluently and automatically someone can perform each step, the more likely we are to consider that person a skilled reader.

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