Posts tagged ‘reading’

April 11, 2014

Are our ‘digital brains’ losing the ability to handle ‘deep reading?

by Grace

Are we “developing digital brains” that are suitable “for skimming through the torrent of information online” but unable to handle “traditional deep reading”?

“I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,” said Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.”…

Researchers are working to get a clearer sense of the differences between online and print reading — comprehension, for starters, seems better with paper — and are grappling with what these differences could mean not only for enjoying the latest Pat Conroy novel but for understanding difficult material at work and school. There is concern that young children’s affinity and often mastery of their parents’ devices could stunt the development of deep reading skills.

Linear vs. nonlinear reading

Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on. Sure, there might be pictures mixed in with the text, but there didn’t tend to be many distractions. Reading in print even gave us a remarkable ability to remember where key information was in a book simply by the layout, researchers said. We’d know a protagonist died on the page with the two long paragraphs after the page with all that dialogue.

The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade when dealing with other mediums as well.

“We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scroll­ing and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you,” said Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor who studies reading. “We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.”

The consequences may include a dwindling proficiency in “reading long sentences with multiple, winding clauses”.  Wolf hears from college professors about this problem.

 Several English department chairs from around the country have e-mailed her to say their students are having trouble reading the classics.

“They cannot read ‘Middlemarch.’ They cannot read William James or Henry James,” Wolf said. “I can’t tell you how many people have written to me about this phenomenon. The students no longer will or are perhaps incapable of dealing with the convoluted syntax and construction of George Eliot and Henry James.”

Convoluted prose is not limited to fiction, but also exists in history and science texts.  I am currently reading a text dealing with the tax benefits of college savings options, and it’s replete with convoluted syntax.

… Because of their easy navigability, paper books and documents may be better suited to absorption in a text….

Compared to print, online content lends itself to nonlinear reading.  Sentences tend to be shorter and syntax is simpler.  Links encourage interruptions.

Sometimes we are biased in thinking screen reading offers superior comprehension.  This might be especially true for younger readers.

…A 2012 Israeli study of engineering students — who grew up in the world of screens — looked at their comprehension while reading the same text on screen and in print when under time pressure to complete the task.

The students believed they did better on screen. They were wrong. Their comprehension and learning was better on paper.

Using the Internet is ‘supereasy’, but ‘deep reading, advanced math, scientific reasoning’ is hard.

April 10, 2014

‘College and career ready’ students should be reading at a 1450 Lexile

by Grace

Paige Jaeger, Coordinator of School Library Services for WSWHE BOCEs in New York, offers the basics of Lexiles 101, including how they fit into Common Core Standards.

  • The Common Core has defined where “college and career ready” (CCR) students should be reading and it’s a 1450  Lexile.  Therefore, they scaffolded in reverse levels to graduate students at the appropriate level.  These Lexile levels are more difficult than where typical students are reading.
  • Lexile is an algorithm. It is a mathematical assessment of a linguistic product. 
  • Lexiles (and other readability statistics) are fallible. (For instance, it is not valid for prose or drama and is less valid for fiction in 1000+ Lexile range.) 
  • The parent organization to the CCSS, (CCSSO formally called the Governor’s convention) recently released a white paper verifying the validity of text complexity. Therefore, we have to pay attention to this essential shift to embrace “rigor” in reading.
  • To read the recent white paper from the Council of Chief State School Officers click here. This article compares a number of algorithms and the summarizes text complexity for the CCSS. 
  • Text complexity formulas were meant for instructional purposes.
  • Pleasure reading should be allowed at any level and this is validated in the Common Core, Appendix A, page 9, paragraph 1:

CCS does not require teachers to select texts based only on complexity.

The Common Core has asked teachers to evaluate classroom materials for quality as well as quantity.  Complexity is only one piece of the puzzle. In addition, a teacher, librarian, or educator, has to pay attention to:

  •  Complexity – Lexile, vocabulary
  •  Qualitative measures -value
  •  Reader and the task -is there enough in the text to foster good discussion, value -added assignments, and begin a knowledge exploration. How can I use this novel or passage to foster critical thinking skills?

Jaeger writes that “Microsoft Word’s Flesch-Kincaid measure has also been proven valid”.  That’s good to know since I find it is a handy tool to use in assessing writing.

Related:  High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books (Cost of College)

March 20, 2014

Reading time compared to TV time

by Grace

Many of us assume that Americans spend more time watching TV than reading, and here are some graphics that show the numbers within various age groups.

These charts show what percent of the population is engaged in the stated activity at that particular time.

Older people read more.  Fewer than 2% of 18-24 year-olds are reading for pleasure at any hour of the day.


 However, young people are presumably doing more school-related reading.


Americans of all ages watch a lot of  TV.


The source is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey (2012).   More charts on other activities can be seen at Chris Walker’s website.

Related:  Asian-American students spend significantly more time on homework (Cost of College)

January 3, 2014

Text is not dead yet on the Internet

by Grace

Most of the time I’d rather read about it than watch a video when I’m consuming Internet content.  Here’s a commenter at Metafilter who seems to agree with me.

You want me to watch a 4:30 video of something i could read in like 45 to 60 seconds even if it was towards the thick end of content these videos ever have?…

More from this guy, who sounds quite worked up:

 … i don’t want to look at your fucking video to consume your content. I have no problem with videos, i just think they’re the wrong medium for a lot of things. Video of something specifically happening, or some visual/multimedia art? Cool. Video documentary of a situation or about a person? fine. Stupid video of someone talking about something with a couple still photos overlaid a few times? Fuck. OFF.

… People need to be asking themselves “What would be missing from this if it was simply written out, maybe with a couple inline images?”  …

… Text isn’t dead. Yea, videos get a lot of views, but some of the biggest currently popular sites on the web like reddit or tumblr are FULL of text.

His criticism is specifically aimed at Upworthy, a website for progressive viral video content.  From their “About” section:

Who’s your audience?

Basically, “The Daily Show” generation. People who care about what’s going on in the world but don’t want to be boring about it.

Yeah, that’s not me.  I’m sure part of it is a generational issue.

Related:  History instruction by video is ‘incoherent torrent of factoids’ (Cost of College)

July 24, 2013

Quick Links – Children need facts to learn; parents read more to girls; a new blog

by Grace

‘Children can’t think if they don’t learn facts’ (The Daily Telegraph)

The academics who criticised rote learning are wrong – it is at the heart of all knowledge

Author and journalist Harry Mount responds to the professors of education who oppose Britain’s new national curriculum.  They claim it will ‘will place an overemphasis on memorising “endless lists of spelling, facts and rules”’, thereby robbing children of the “ability to think”‘.

Those academics think knowledge and thought are at war with each other in a zero-sum game; that you can’t have one without destroying the other. They say that rote learning is less important than “cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity”. How wrong they are – and how depressingly keen on the dreary, Latinate jargon of academese. You can’t be critical or creative, or develop, without knowing anything. Knowledge and thought aren’t chickens and eggs: knowledge always comes before a decent thought. Brilliant thinkers invariably know lots of things; and people who don’t know anything are usually stupid, unless they have had the cruel misfortune to have their natural intelligence stunted by an education system that prizes ignorance.

Daniel Willingham would further argue that we need “inflexible” knowledge , which is “memorizing with meaning”.  Rote knowledge, which is memorizing without meaning, is typically a precursor to flexible knowledge.

* * * * *

Why parents read more with their daughters

Girls get more reading time with their parents than boys do.

There Are Plenty of Reasons Why Parents May Read More With Their Daughters

One theory holds that girls might have a greater inclination toward such activities. (Theories suggesting innate differences between boys and girls and between men and women are hotly debated.) Another theory is that parents may be following cultural scripts and unconscious biases that suggest they should read with their daughters, and have active play with sons.

It is also possible, Baker says, that the costs of investing in cognitive activities is different when it comes to boys and girls. As an economist, he isn’t referring to cost in the sense of cash; he means cost in the sense of effort.

“It is just more costly to provide a unit of reading to a boy than to a girl because the boy doesn’t sit still, you know, doesn’t pay attention,” he says, “these sorts of things.”

* * * * *

Check out a new blog.

My son recently launched a new blog.  Occam’s Razor Scooter “is dedicated to news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else the author finds interesting”.  Politics is a particular focus, with a regularly updated guide to next year’s US Senate elections.  And the blog’s “dog of the day” feature is worth checking just for a daily smile.


March 2, 2012

Kindle ‘Popular Highlights’ may become popular with college students

by Grace

The lazy college student finds ways to do less reading.

In the near future, it may be unnecessary to rely on used textbooks for another student’s highlights.  Instead, the “time-challenged” scholar will be able to use Kindle’s Popular Highlights feature to see what many other students considered the important passages in the textbook.

Q: What are Popular Highlights?
The Amazon Kindle and the Kindle Apps provide a very simple mechanism for adding highlights. Every month, Kindle customers highlight millions of book passages that are meaningful to them. We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. We show only passages where the highlights of at least three distinct customers overlap, and we do not show which customers made those highlights.

I’ve been noticing Popular Highlights in a book I’m reading for a continuing education course.  Although they are not particularly germane to the course I’m taking, as the highlights come up I can see how they could be very helpful in cases where hundreds of students are using the same book for the same course.

January 4, 2012

New Year’s resolution – a book a month?

by Grace

I’m thinking about reading some of these as a new year’s resolution, maybe tackling one book each month.

20 Classic Novels You Can Read in One Sitting

Some of these books I can either get free or for less than a dollar on my Kindle.  Although most of them are under 200 pages, in the comments it was noted that a few of these are really not two-hour reads (Wuthering Heights?).  As a slow reader, I should take that into account.

Here’s the list.

  1. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
  4. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  5. Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
  6. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  7. Candide, by Voltaire
  8. Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck
  9. The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
  10. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton
  11. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
  12. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  13. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  14. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  15. Night, by Elie Wiesel
  16. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
  17. The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
  18. The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  19. The Stranger, by Albert Camus
  20. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Some more ideas are in the comments, including one of my favorites, The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway.  It would be interesting to re-read some books that I remember fondly from my youth and see if they’ve stood the test of time.

Two (or three) hours a month – how hard can that be?  I can think of it as my own personal battle against the end of deep and focused reading.

December 30, 2011

Kindle Fire – the end of deep and focused reading?

by Grace

After using it for about a month, I have found it is sometimes challenging to focus when reading a book on my Kindle Fire.  When I’m out and about I can often find free WiFi, which means I can access the Internet.  So I can relate to Alexandra Petri’s lament about her Kindle Fire.

Look, if you put the Internet on the device I am supposed to be using to read, I will never read again.

Can you blame me? I am only human.

I can’t focus. If all these studies about multitasking have taught us anything, it is that we all think we can multitask but no one actually can. In the course of writing this I have eight times run off and reloaded the page to see if anything had happened on YouTube that I should know about.

The end of reading books?

It’s not that people will stop reading. We do vast amounts of reading online every day — the equivalent of a good Hemingway novel. But it’s not deep but broad, not focused but fast.

Students need deep and focused reading skills to learn, so this possible trend is worrisome.

E-reader ownership doubles in last six months
Save money on college textbooks by using Kindle 

June 28, 2011

E-reader ownership doubles in last six months

by Grace

That sounds about right.  “All” my friends and relatives either own e-readers or are talking about which one to buy.

The share of adults in the United States who own an e-book reader doubled to 12% in May, 2011  from 6% in November 2010.  E-readers, such as a Kindle or Nook, are portable devices designed to allow readers to download and read books and periodicals.  This is the first time since the Pew Internet Project began measuring e-reader use in April 2009 that ownership of this device has reached double digits among U.S. adults.

Around Christmas time, it seemed as if all “everyone” was getting an iPad, but apparently growth in tablet computer ownership has slowed down.

Tablet computers—portable devices similar to e-readers but designed for more interactive web functions—have not seen the same level of growth in recent months.  In May 2011, 8% of adults report owning a tablet computer such as an iPad, Samsung Galaxy or Motorola Xoom.  This is roughly the same percentage of adults who reported owning this kind of device in January 2011 (7%), and represents just a 3 percentage-point increase in ownership since November 2010.  Prior to that, tablet ownership had been climbing relatively quickly.

I own neither an e-reader nor a tablet computer; I’m still in the “talking about” stage.

Source:  Pew Internet

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