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Unaccelerated Reading

Written on: June 20th, 2010 by: in Blog PostsLearningReading

“Slow Reading” has been in the news recently. Thomas Newkirk, Professor of English at New Hampshire University, was featured in wire stories such as this one about how slowing down the pace of reading improves children’s comprehension and mastery. You can read the original article by Newkirk through the libraries’ subscription databases at this link (with your library card number and PIN, but his conclusion seems attractive:

Not all our reading, nor all our students’ reading, can or should have this depth. We read for various purposes. But some of our reading should have such depth, inefficient as that might be.
There is real pleasure in slowing down. We can gain some pleasures and meanings no other way. The term taste applies to both literacy and eating. And to taste, we have to slow down. Schools need to take a stand for an alternative to an increasingly hectic digital environment where so many of us read and write in abbreviated messages.

It’s not entirely a new concept, as this education research paper from 1982 shows (click to connect with your library card number and PIN):this resarcher wrote ” that slow reading will help [students] learn and interpret the language of the text, and that personal observation will also help them range over the text in a nonlinear fashion”

Which raises some interesting questions for libraries and schools. From Summer reading programs in public libraries to the MS Readathon, so many of our reading-centric and literacy-promoting organizations prize consumption over other performance measures, and according to the claims made in this article and other writings on the topic, the manic rush to encompass and consume massive quantities of information leads to a reduction of comprehension, a superficial acquisition of selective facts and impressions that will not be retained long-term. “The mind becomes a decontextualized database of ephemeral facts” according to Paul Davis, a slow-reading advocate writing in this article.

Nicholas Carr’s recent book The Shallows has created quite a stir, both pro and con- this review, for instance, in which the writer notes that since antiquity, new information technologies have been decried by traditionalists with the complaint that the new technology will diminish intellectual accomplishment. In “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, an earlier essay in Atlantic Magazine that formed the basis for this book, Carr decided that “deep reading…is indistinguishable from deep thinking”, which is a very different opinion than futurists such as Ray Kurtzweil, who insist that the human brain is going to, and to some extent, has evolved to accomodate the new ways of transferring and consuming information. This related article appeared in the June 18th New York Times

John Miedema’s Slow Reading Blog is a great resource for other ideas and writings about the subject. What do you think? After you’ve taken time to read and digest these articles, let us know in the comments section.