Tag Archives: Illiteracy in America

The slow reading movement

31 Jan

The Slow Reading Movement is part of the “slow movement” which aims to decrease the pace of life and promote greater comprehension. Holly Ramer of AP reports on the slow reading movement. In the article, NH Professor Pushes For Return of the Slow Reading which was reprinted in the Seattle Times, Ramer reports:

At a time when people spend much of their time skimming websites, text messages and e-mails, an English professor at the University of New Hampshire is making the case for slowing down as a way to gain more meaning and pleasure out of the written word.

Thomas Newkirk isn’t the first or most prominent proponent of the so-called “slow reading” movement, but he argues it’s becoming all the more important in a culture and educational system that often treats reading as fast food to be gobbled up as quickly as possible.

“You see schools where reading is turned into a race, you see kids on the stopwatch to see how many words they can read in a minute,” he said. “That tells students a story about what reading is. It tells students to be fast is to be good.”

Newkirk is encouraging schools from elementary through college to return to old strategies such as reading aloud and memorization as a way to help students truly “taste” the words. He uses those techniques in his own classroom, where students have told him that they’ve become so accustomed from flitting from page to page online that they have trouble concentrating while reading printed books.

“One student told me even when he was reading a regular book, he’d come to a word and it would almost act like a hyper link. It would just send his mind off to some other thing,” Newkirk said. “I think they recognize they’re missing out on something.”

The idea is not to read everything as slowly as possible, however. As with the slow food movement, the goal is a closer connection between readers and their information, said John Miedema, whose 2009 book “Slow Reading” explores the movement.

“It’s not just about students reading as slowly as possible,” he said. “To me, slow reading is about bringing more of the person to bear on the book.”

Wikipedia has additional information about slow reading

The University of New Hampshire where Professor Newkirk teaches has a press release which summarizes his case for slow reading. In Key To Children Reading More is Fostering Reading More Slowly Newkirk’s philosophy is summarized:

Newkirk proposes several strategies for “slowing down and reclaiming the acoustical properties of written language—for savoring it, for enjoying the infinite ways a sentence can unfold—and for returning to passages that sustain and inspire us. Many of these strategies are literally as old as the hills.”

  • Memorizing: Memorization is often called “knowing by heart,” and for good reason. Memorizing enables us to possess a text in a special way.
  • Reading Aloud: Reading aloud is a regular activity in elementary classrooms, but it dies too soon. Well-chosen and well-read texts are one of the best advertisements for literacy. By reading aloud, teachers can create a bridge to texts that students might read; they can help reluctant readers imagine a human voice animating the words on the page.
  • Attending to Beginnings: Writers often struggle with their beginnings because they are making so many commitments; they are establishing a voice, nrrator, and point of view that are right for what will follow. These openings often suggest a conflict. They raise a question, pose a problem, create an “itch to be scratched.” Readers need to be just as deliberate and not rush through these carefully constructed beginnings. As teachers, we can model this slowness.
  • Rethinking Time Limits on Reading Tests: We currently give students with disabilities additional time to complete standardized tests; we should extend this opportunity to all students. Tests place too high a premium on speed, and limits are often set for administrative convenience rather than because of a reasoned belief in what makes good readers.
  • Annotating a Page: In this activity, students probe the craft of a favorite writer. They pick a page they really like, photocopy it, and tape the photocopy to a larger piece of paper so they have wide margins in which they can make notations. Their job is to give the page a close reading and mark word choices, sentence patterns, images, dialogue—anything they find effective. A variation of this activity is a quote and comment assignment in which students copy out passages by hand that they find particularly meaningful and then comment on why they chose those passages. Copying a passage slows us down and creates an intimacy with the writer’s style—a feel for word choice and for how sentences are formed.
  • Reading Poetry: Even in this age of efficiency and consumption, it is unlikely that anyone will reward students for reading a million poems. Poems can’t be checked off that way. They demand a slower pace and usually several readings—and they are usually at their best when read aloud.
  • Savoring Passages: Children know something that adults often forget—the deep pleasure of repetition, of rereading, or of having parents reread, until the words seem to be part of them.

Thomas Newkirk is a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author and editor of a number of books, including “Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For(2009), “Teaching the Neglected ‘R’ “(2007), and “Misreading Masculinity”(2004), which was cited by Instructor Magazine as one of the most significant books for teachers in the past decade. Newkirk is a former teacher of at-risk high school students in Boston, former director of UNH’s freshman English program, and the director and founder of its New Hampshire Literacy Institutes. He has studied literacy learning at a variety of educational levels, from preschool to college.

Professor Newkirk has written the article, Reading is not a race: The virtues of the ‘slow reading’ movement for the Washington Post:

This obsession with speed has not always been dominant. The McGuffey readers encouraged patience and repeated readings that would lead to oral performance. But in the 1920s, reading educators argued that oral reading was too slow and inefficient—in fact, students needed to cut themselves off from any connection to sound and oral performance.

One popular guide at the time advised teachers to have students — literally — hold their tongue while reading, thus preventing sounding out words. Another technique was to bring a piece of wood to class and bite down on it while reading. Another was to allow them to chew gum while reading. If sound was turned off in these ways, students could process bigger visual chunks.

I myself am a slow reader. Always have been. I enter a book or essay carefully, trying to get a feel for this writer/narrator/teller that I will spend time with. I hear the language, feel the movement of sentences, pay attention to punctuation, sense pauses, feel the writer’s energy (or lack of it), construct the voice and temperament of the writer.

If I am going to spend time with an author, I want to hear his or her voice — I want some human connection.

I have therefore joined the slow reading movement. Like the slow food movement, it is about more than just slowing down, though that is part of it. It is about an intimacy with authors; it is about paying attention, about caring, about rereading and savoring what we read. It is about finding the right pace. About pleasure more than efficiency.

Slow reading is also about recovering old practices that have traditionally aided readers in paying attention — oral performance, annotation, exploring complex and difficult passages. It is about reading that generates ideas for writing, what Ralph Waldo Emerson called “creative reading.” And even memorization.    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/reading-is-not-a-race-the-virtues-of-the-slow-reading-movement/2012/01/25/gIQA4RVCbQ_blog.html

There should be a variety of strategies to help people read and comprehend. There shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach to education. The goal remains providing a good basic education for all.

See, Illiteracy in America   https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/illiteracy-in-america/

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

Illiteracy in America

7 Dec

This is an absolutely jaw-dropping statistic. According the article, Opinion Brief: Detroit’s ‘shocking’ 47 percent illiteracy rate which was posted at The Week:

More than 200,000 Detroit residents — 47 percent of Motor City adults — are “functionally illiterate,” according to a new report released by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund. That means they can’t fill out basic forms, read a prescription, or handle other tasks most Americans take for granted, according to the fund’s director, Karen Tyler-Ruiz, as quoted by CBS Detroit. Her organization’s study also found that the education and training aimed at overcoming these problems “is inadequate at best,” says Jackie Headapohl at Michigan Live. http://theweek.com/article/index/215055/detroits-shocking-47-percent-illiteracy-rate

Illiteracy is a global problem, with some geographic areas and populations suffering more from illiteracy than others.

Education Portal defines illiteracy in the article, Illiteracy: The Downfall of American Society.

Most people think of literacy as a simple question of being able to read. But while a young child who can work her way through a basic picture book is considered to have age-appropriate literacy levels, an adult who can only read at the most fundamental level is still functionally illiterate.

The world requires that adults not only be able to read and understand basic texts, but also be able to function in the workplace, pay bills, understand legal and financial documents and navigate technology – not to mention the advanced reading comprehension skills required to pursue postsecondary education and the opportunities that come with it.

As a result, when we talk about the effects of illiteracy on society, we’re talking primarily about what happens when you have a large number of adults whose literacy skills are too low to perform normal, day-to-day tasks. However, it is worth keeping in mind that childhood illiteracy is, of course, directly correlated to adult illiteracy.


The key concept is the individual cannot adequately function in the society in which they live. That means that tasks necessary to provide a satisfactory life are difficult because they cannot read and/or comprehend what they read.

ProLiteracy provides basic facts about illiteracy in the article, Basic Facts about Literacy:

Literacy is the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member.

  • There are 759 million adults–approximately 16 percent of the world’s population–who have only basic or below basic literacy levels in their native languages.
  • Two-thirds of the world’s lowest literate adults are women (640 million women have basic or below basic literacy skills).
  • In the U.S., 63 million adults — 29 percent of the country’s adult population —over age 16 don’t read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level.
  • An additional 30 million 14 percent of the country’s adult population — can only read at a fifth grade level or lower.
  • Forty-three percent of adults with the lowest literacy rates in the United States live in poverty.
  • The United States ranks fifth on adult literacy skills when compared to other industrialized nations.
  • Adult low literacy can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the United States:
    • More than 65 percent of all state and federal corrections inmates can be classified as low literate.
    • Low health literacy costs between $106 billion and $236 billion each year in the U.S.
    • Seventy-seven million Americans have only a 2-in-3 chance of correctly reading an over-the-counter drug label or understanding their child’s vaccination chart.
    • Low literacy’s effects cost the U.S. $225 billion or more each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.
  • Globally, illiteracy can be linked to:
    • Gender abuse, including female infanticide and female circumcision
    • Extreme poverty (earning less than $1/day)
    • High infant mortality and the spread of HIV/Aids, malaria, and other preventable infectious diseases http://www.proliteracy.org/page.aspx?pid=345

Many of those who are illiterate are successful in hiding the fact that they cannot read.

According to the Gaston Literacy Council, there are Signs of Illiteracy:

Common Things Someone In Need Of Literacy Services Might Say or Do:

  • May I take that application home to fill it out and bring it back to you?

  • You read the work order and I’ll gather up the tools.

  • Could you fill this out for me?  I forgot my glasses.

  • I don’t like to read.

  • I didn’t bring my glasses.  Can you tell me what this says?

  • Fake a coughing fit and/or leave the Sunday School class or other assembly when it’s their turn to read.

  • May I take this test orally?  It makes my eyes burn to read.

  • I don’t need to write that down; I’ll remember it.

  • I lost my appointment card.  What time is my appointment?

  • Cannot read the appointment card and habitually shows up really early or too late.

  • I can see really well far away, but can’t make out anything up close.

  • Received a certificate of attendance instead of a diploma.

  • Always unable to find a pencil or paper when asked to take a phone message.

  • At a restaurant, “I’ll have what he’s having.”


Solving illiteracy is a complex problem, but for an excellent analysis of the problem, go to Illiteracy in America. Extent, Causes, and Suggested Solutions, Patricia H. Smith and others .

Here is the abstract:

This report examines reasons for the varying estimates of illiteracy in the United States. It discusses why the agency charged with transmitting literacy, the public school system, has not satisfactorily accomplished this task and recommends improvements to reduce and eradicate illiteracy. Part 1 focuses on the confusion about the extent of illiteracy because of varying definitions of literacy. The relationship between literacy and the economy is discussed in light of business and industrial needs for and concern over the lack of a literate work force. Other factors affecting estimates of illiteracy are highlighted. Part 2 considers causation by examining how each of the various elements woven into the fabric of education contribute to the decline in literacy. The discussion centers on an examination of the changes resulting from three important shifts in American culture and education: a philosophical shift from traditional to progressive, a societal shift from traditional to permissive, and a governance shift from local to state and federal and from lay to professional. The issue of holding schools responsible is addressed. Part 3 offers recommendations for prevention of the problem with accompanying explanations. These are made in response to the three shifts discussed in section 2. A conclusion summarizes stated and implied recommendations. A list of 288 references is included. (YLB)


Illiteracy in America. Extent, Causes, and Suggested Solutions.

Smith, Patricia H.;  And Others

Full-Text Availability Options:

PDF ERIC Full Text (7706K)

So much attention has been focused on testing, that some of the basic skills which children must learn, like reading have been neglected.


National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)


Illiteracy: An Incurable Disease or Education Malpractice?


Living in the Shadows: Illiteracy in America                      http://abcnews.go.com/WN/LegalCenter/story?id=4336421&page=1#.Tt8XMFbfW-c

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©