undergraduate literacy (again)

I was surprised to see the 2007 NEA study cited as evidence in a recent recent WSJ account of undergraduate literacy: "The Young and the Bookless". The other sources we’ve seen point to a rise, not a fall, in reading for pleasure among undergraduates. Perhaps “the last book they had read for fun” didn’t include digital media?

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time to focus on readers, not books

The recent NYT op-ed, "The Country That Stopped Reading", will interest all of us on the “What is a Reader?” project–particularly its reflection on the dangers of substituting informational for literary texts in schools. But I was particularly struck by the writer David Toscana’s comment about a failed literacy campaign that “focused on the book instead of the reader” and consequently produced warehouses of unread reading materials but no new readers. Are we in danger of doing the same when we focus our (many) debates about reading on how people read (kindles versus paper books, etc. etc.) and not what or why they read–or, most important of all, who reads and who doesn’t?

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Who’s responsible for teaching reading?

A recent article in The Washington Post argues that English teachers are misinterpreting the common core standards in reading to mean that they should ditch fiction for nonfiction: “Yes, the standards do require increasing amounts of nonfiction from kindergarten through grade 12, [Common Core architect David] Coleman said. But that refers to reading across all subjects, not just in English class, he said. Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said.”

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Your Brain on Jane Austen

“What is a Reader?” participants curious about what our own Natalie Phillips has been up can read about her research here : “If the ongoing analysis continues to support the initial theory, Phillips said, teaching close reading (i.e., attention to literary form) ‘could serve – quite literally – as a kind of cognitive training, teaching us to modulate our concentration and use new brain regions as we move flexibly between modes of focus.’ “

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The Bookworm Generation

According to a new report,”Generation Y, those born between 1979 and 1989, spent the most money on books in 2011, taking over long-held book-buying leadership from Baby Boomers. That’s according to the 2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review, the publishing industry’s only complete consumer-based report integrating channel, motivation and category analysis of U.S. book buyers. The Review, an information staple prepared by Bowker® Market Research and industry trade magazine Publishers Weekly, notes that GenY’s 2011 book expenditures rose to 30 percent — up from 24 percent in 2010 – passing Boomers, 25 percent share. And with 43 percent of GenY’s purchases going to online channels, they are adding momentum to the industry shift to digital.”

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Readers are Leaders

“Deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness,” argues a blog post from Harvard Business Review by John Coleman, "For Those Who Want to Lead, Read."

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CA Reading Association

I’ve been browsing the California Reading Association website, which has interesting links: less of direct relevance to higher ed, but it’s good to keep up with reading at the K-12 levels nonetheless.

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Robot Readers

A post on Alex Reid’s blog, “Digital Digs,” robot graders, new aesthetic, and the end of the close reading industry, observes, “I think the “close reading” model that dominates English . . . is ultimately linked with computerized grading and industrial modes of attention. That is not to suggest that in the future we will not need to pay close attention to things. However it is an error to conflate paying attention with the specific industrial modes of attention that dominated the last century.” If pre-industrial attention was manifested in its modes of reading (such as lectio divina) and industrial attention was manifested in close reading, what modes of reading belong to our current age and attention?

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Teaching Reading through Fiction

Responding to the news article on teaching reading through nonfiction (cited below), Howard Gardner (Education, Harvard) writes to the NYT : “Those educators who selected a reading program that valued fictional works presumably thought that was an appropriate emphasis. It is now up to those educators to provide measures that might reveal better performances on their curriculum — for example, richer imaginations by students or a greater likelihood of reading books of any sort outside the school environment.”

But on the same topic, yesterday’s NYT contained an opinion piece, “Your Brain on Fiction,” whose author, Annie Murphy Paul, cites evidence that reading literature activates and strengthens cognitive capacity, particularly for empathy, concluding: “Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.”

I believe that the most nuanced take on this question remains Suzanne Keen’s Empathy and the Novel (2007), which finds that, while reading may increase empathy, it isn’t reading alone, but reading in the specific context of the classroom with a skilled teacher, that turns empathetic readers into altruistic citizens.

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Teaching Reading with Nonfiction in NYC: NYT article

This working group has been exploring and discussing the teaching of reading (especially at the post-secondary level) through fiction, which is the focus of traditional literature and English departments.

An article in today’s NYT suggests that elementary students performed better when taught reading through nonfiction:

Nonfiction Curriculum Enhanced Reading Skills, Study Finds

I’d be keen to know more about what skills and processes were emphasized in the fiction vs. non-fiction classrooms, and how success was measured.


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