Slower reading can be a good habit

Betty - posted on 09/03/2010 ( no moms have responded yet )

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Who says that you have to be a fast reader to be a good reader? Children that do not read fast are often thought of as not good enough. Recent studies show that being a slow reader is a good thing. This study wants children to enjoy reading instead of rushing. What are your thoughts? DURHAM — A filet mignon wouldn't be devoured. A fine glass of wine wouldn't be guzzled. So why race through a good book?

University of New Hampshire English Professor Thomas Newkirk is making his case for "slow reading," a movement he hopes will convince people to slow down and thoughtfully read a book, rather than working to finish it as soon as possible.

"We're in a culture where reading is often made into a race," Newkirk said. "You're tested on how many words you can read in a minute. Kids early on get the impression that to be fast is to be good, and if I'm not fast, I'm not good. And if I'm not good, I'm going to be good at something else. We need to create space for them. I'm totally happy with people who get lost in books."

Newkirk, who calls himself a "slow reader," said many of his own students have told him they struggle with standardized tests because of time limits associated with reading comprehension. Although the students are intelligent and capable readers, he said, those skills often don't translate to tests that include time limitations.

Beyond problems with testing, Newkirk said this problem with accelerated reading is also enhanced by habits being created by a lifestyle of text messages, instant messages and tweets.

"If you look at studies of what you read on the Internet, by some estimates, on an Internet page we will read 18 percent of the words," Newkirk said. "We're kind of in a culture now where people are reading and flipping to another site. At schools and at home we need to say 'Stay with it. Don't rush through it. It's not a race. There's no prizes.'"

Instead, Newkirk said students should be encouraged to take time to read, make notes in the margins, even copy passages and explain why the specific language evokes certain feelings. This analytical approach not only increases comprehension, but builds lifelong readers, he said.

In Dover, the school district's elementary schools and middle school are already taking a similar approach as a new curriculum called Dover's Growing Readers nears the end of its first full year.

"The beauty of Dover's Growing Readers is that it's truly a balance literacy approach," said Curriculum Director Jean Briggs Badger, who is also the incoming superintendent. "We put the emphasis on comprehension skills that run wide and deep, that's the goal. We don't have an undue emphasis on fast, timed passages."

Debora Nary, a reading specialist and literacy facilitator at Horne Street School said she has already begun to the results of the program first-hand.

Whereas previous curriculum put an emphasis on specific skills, such as phonics, the new program takes a broader approach to reading comprehension. And along the way, teachers have been able to pinpoint exactly where curriculum has been falling short in the past, Nary said.

"Instead of rushing, rushing, rushing, we slow it all down and have them practice their thinking," Nary said.

And that can take several forms, including guided reading where the students can get together with the teacher to talk about the book and literature circles where they also discuss reading with classmates.

A big component to the early success of the program is a simple one — giving students an opportunity to enjoy reading. So in addition to assigned reading, students are allowed to choose their own books.

"They're not worrying about a skill. They are reading out of a book that they are enjoying, and they are learning the skills that way," Nary said.

It's still too early to directly measure all of the successes of the Dover's Growing Readers program, however school officials have been so impressed this year that there are already talks about bringing the program to the high school level, Nary said.

And not ignoring that age group is important, Newkirk said, noting that activities like reading aloud that naturally slow down the reading process often cease once students are in middle school.

"I think what happens in middle school is that the focus on pleasure and slowing down to delight in reading maybe gives way to curriculum and subject matter learning," Newkirk said. "Some of the pleasure in reading is lost at that point."

Once students are allowed to enjoy reading, the chances are they will choose to do it, and along the way skills will improve, Newkirk said.

Newkirk further explained his theory in March edition of Education Leadership in an article titled "The Case for Slow Reading."

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