The PIRLS definition of reading literacy is grounded in IEA’s 1991 study, in which reading literacy was defined as “the ability to understand and use those written language forms required by society and/or valued by the individual”.15

With successive assessments, this definition has been elaborated so that it retains its applicability to readers of all ages and a broad range of written language forms, yet makes explicit reference to aspects of the reading experience of young students as they become proficient readers, highlights the widespread importance of reading in school and everyday life, and acknowledges the increasing variety of texts in today’s technological world. Currently, the PIRLS definition of reading literacy is as follows:

Reading literacy is the ability to understand and use those written language forms required by society and/or valued by the individual. Readers can construct meaning from texts in a variety of forms. They read to learn, to participate in communities of readers in school and everyday life, and for enjoyment.

Throughout the framework, various sources that have provided a research and scholarly basis for the framework are referenced. These references represent the volumes of literature and research that have informed the PIRLS framework, including considerable research by countries participating in PIRLS.

This view of reading reflects numerous theories of reading literacy as a constructive and interactive process.16,17,18,19,20,21,22 Meaning is constructed through the interaction between reader and text in the context of a particular reading experience.23,24 Readers are regarded as actively constructing meaning, reasoning with the text, and knowing effective reading strategies and how to reflect on reading.25,26

Before, during, and after reading, readers use a repertoire of linguistic skills, cognitive and metacognitive strategies, as well as background knowledge to construct meaning .27,28,29,30,31,32 In addition, the context of the reading situation can support the construction of meaning by promoting engagement and motivation to read, but the context also can place specific demands that might not support the construction of meaning.33,34,35,36

In order to acquire knowledge of the world and themselves, readers can learn from a host of text types. Each text type follows conventional forms and rules which aid the reader’s interpretation of the text.37

Any given text type can take many forms and combinations of forms. These include traditional written forms, such as books, magazines, documents, and newspapers, as well as digital forms that include the numerous ways of communicating via the internet and websites where text often is integrated with various multimedia formats.38,39,40,41

Increasingly, internet reading is a key component of school curricula and one of the central ways students acquire information.42,43,44 New digital literacies are necessary for reading on the internet, where a successful reader is one that can meet his or her reading goals by efficiently finding and comprehending the target information.45,46,47,48,49

The internet is a nonlinear network of texts distributed across multiple websites and pages. Looking for and learning information from the internet involves comprehension of information arranged within this complex reading environment.50,51,52,53 While traditional printed text usually is read in a linear fashion, online reading consists of searching through a network of multiple texts where readers are responsible for creating their own paths. Readers first must access the appropriate website, and then use navigation strategies (e.g., multiple navigation and sub-navigation menus, tabs, and links) to move efficiently within and across one webpage or site to the next.

Essentially, reading for informational purposes on the internet requires all of the reading comprehension skills and strategies necessary for reading traditional printed text, but in a different environment containing much more information.54 Because of the complexity of the internet, online reading involves being able to use reading comprehension skills and strategies in contexts that are very different from those encountered in reading traditional printed materials.55

Whether reading online or printed text, discussing what they have read with different groups of individuals allows young students to construct text meaning in a variety of contexts.56,57 Social interactions about reading in one or more communities of readers can be instrumental in helping young students gain an understanding and appreciation of texts and other sources of information.58,59 Socially constructed environments in the classroom or school library can give young students formal and informal opportunities to broaden their perspectives and see reading as a shared experience with their classmates and teachers.60,61 This can be extended to communities outside of school as young students talk with their families and friends about ideas and information acquired from reading.