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How to Get Your Mind to Read

29 November 2017

From The New York Times:

Americans are not good readers. Many blame the ubiquity of digital media. We’re too busy on Snapchat to read, or perhaps internet skimming has made us incapable of reading serious prose. But Americans’ trouble with reading predates digital technologies. The problem is not bad reading habits engendered by smartphones, but bad education habits engendered by a misunderstanding of how the mind reads.

Just how bad is our reading problem? The last National Assessment of Adult Literacy from 2003 is a bit dated, but it offers a picture of Americans’ ability to read in everyday situations: using an almanac to find a particular fact, for example, or explaining the meaning of a metaphor used in a story. Of those who finished high school but did not continue their education, 13 percent could not perform simple tasks like these. When things got more complex — in comparing two newspaper editorials with different interpretations of scientific evidence or examining a table to evaluate credit card offers — 95 percent failed.

. . . .

In one experiment, third graders — some identified by a reading test as good readers, some as poor — were asked to read a passage about soccer. The poor readers who knew a lot about soccer were three times as likely to make accurate inferences about the passage as the good readers who didn’t know much about the game.

That implies that students who score well on reading tests are those with broad knowledge; they usually know at least a little about the topics of the passages on the test. One experiment tested 11th graders’ general knowledge with questions from science (“pneumonia affects which part of the body?”), history (“which American president resigned because of the Watergate scandal?”), as well as the arts, civics, geography, athletics and literature. Scores on this general knowledge test were highly associated with reading test scores.

Current education practices show that reading comprehension is misunderstood. It’s treated like a general skill that can be applied with equal success to all texts. Rather, comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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9 Comments to “How to Get Your Mind to Read”

  1. “Americans are not good readers. Many blame the ubiquity of digital media.”

    Maybe it’s what’s offered to be read?

    Speaking just for myself, I do a lot of reading – too much if you consider missing sleep because I wanted to finish a chapter (or in some cases a book!)

    And digital media has made it easier – not harder – for me to read.

    Of course this was the NYTs, the rag that no one believes their ‘best pretend seller’ lists and that takes their data from qig5 talking heads – who are watching that digital media take away from their paper sales …

  2. Seems like I heard the same about IQ tests. You ‘read better’ or ‘are smarter’ if you have the right background, as decided by the test designers.

  3. I keep looking at articles like these and asking myself if the results aren’t obvious.

    Give kids a much information as they can absorb, and their brains will make the cross-correlations. Those years of childhood should be full of stuff to touch and do AND read – because they will be too busy when they’re adults. Once the base is laid down, everything adds to it.

  4. “…examining a table to evaluate credit card offers…”

    Yeah, I’d fail that too. And anything insurance related. But then again, even the insurance company reps can’t understand the convoluted mess that is my insurance plan, so I don’t think the problem is with readers or their comprehension, it’s with the written word.

  5. “That implies that students who score well on reading tests are those with broad knowledge; they usually know at least a little about the topics of the passages on the test.”

    And did the writer stop to consider that just maybe they obtained all that “broad knowledge” by reading a lot?

  6. If Americans are poor readers I think it is mostly due to:

    a) parents not reading with/to their children thus not inspiring the desire to read.

    b) teachers assigning reading material that is more like torture to the students (what they consider classics are not relatable to EVERY generation) thus the child equates reading with painful drudgery.

    c) poor study construction by the author of the piece who just want’s to justify his own point. Some of the things the article uses to justify good vs bad readers are just ludicrous.

    I’m going to go read now…..

  7. The results of a lot of research confirms propositions that seem obvious. This article reminded me that at one time those with poor eyesight or hearing were considered as being not so bright.

    I did a little googling and came up with this nugget from the National PTA: “About ten million children in this country suffer from undetected vision problems that may cause them to fail in school.”

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