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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Week Eleven Notes

Can Reading Be Saved?

Chances are that you aren't reading this.  Of course, there could be lots of reasons why but I won't touch any of them - except one; that fewer people are reading today than was the case almost thirty years ago.  At least this is what was reported in an extensive study conducted by the Census Bureau way back in 2002 (at the request of the National Endowment in the Arts), and the findings - mixed with anecdotal observations - seem to be even more relevant in 2011. Reading is at risk. So, if you devote time each day to reading, you're in a club whose membership is dwindling each passing year.

Here are the ten significant findings:
  1. The percentage of adult Americans reading literature has dropped dramatically over the past 20 years -now 30 - with less than half of the adult American population reading literature.
  2. The decline in literacy reading parallels a decline in total book reading.
  3. The rate of decline in literary reading is accelerating  - meaning that the percentage of adults who aren't reading is declining faster than in previous decades.
  4. Women read more literature than men do, but literary reading by both groups is declining at significant rates.
  5. Literary reading is declining among whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics.
  6. Literary reading is declining among all education levels (the higher the level of education, the higher the reading rate - but it's still declining).
  7. Literary reading is declining among all age groups.
  8. The steepest decline in literary reading is in the youngest age groups.
  9. The decline in literary reading foreshadows an erosion in cultural and civic participation.
  10. The decline in reading correlates with increased participation in a variety of electronic media, including the Internet, video games, and portable digital devices.
This is telling data - if you've made it this far in the post.  It does not bode well for the future of American democracy if there is a positive correlation between reading rate and voter participation rate - which there is.  But some also feel that it's inaccurate data because it doesn't take into account the various forms of literacy that have emerged in this age of technology.  For instance, they claim that individuals need to cultivate a digital literacy that is more visual (video) than the reading literacy addressed in the above report. Given the various ways in which information is now presented, it calls into question how one actually defines "reading" these days. After all, if you've made it this far, you're reading this on-line.  Shouldn't this count as reading?

No doubt, we're deluged with information from every which way.  And we're challenged in our efforts to manage this information, to sort through and make sense of it. Keep it short.  Keep it simple. Where is the Spark Note version?

Hey - can you text it?

We were told back in 2002 by the Commission on Adolescent Literacy of the International Reading Association that teenagers entering the 21st century would be reading and writing more than at any other time in human history.  What do you think?

For another take on this issue, check out an interview with Kelly Gallagher, author of a book called Readicide.

Closer to Home

Back near the start of this school year, 289 ninth-graders completed a reading survey that was administered in their English classes by EOS Reading Specialists.  The survey was comprised of the following components - 1) a Student Self-Report of Academic Skills designed to gather information about preferred styles of learning, attitudes, interests, and goals, 2) spelling dictation of 25 words representing phonetic and orthographic patterns or conventional rules, and 3) a nationally-normed assessment called the Nelson-Denny Reading Test that took timed measures of vocabulary and reading comprehension.  The objectives were to establish individual baseline performances, to identify student needs, and to make recommendations where appropriate.  The data was grouped by academic levels and some of the information contained in the detailed report prepared by Ms. Sandra Popeleski, EOS Reading Specialist, follows in the bullets and paragraphs below;

  • 160 students in English 9A, representing 53.6% of the population tested, completed the survey, while 129 students in English 9B did the same.
  • Percentile scores on the Nelson-Denny in Vocabulary for 9A students ranged from 22 to 99, with the mean percentile settling on 83.1.  For Comprehension, the range was 19 to 99, with the mean being 80.6.  Finally, the range for Total Reading was 21 to 99 and the average was 83.3.
  • Percentile scores for 9B students in Vocabulary were in the range of 2 to 99, with the mean being 54.3.  For Comprehension, the range of scores fell between 1 and 99 and the mean percentile was 46.3.  The Total Reading range was 1 to 99, with the mean being 50.
  • 100% of the students in 9A earned at least a 64 (goal for incoming ninth-graders) on the 8th-grade Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) Degrees of Reading Power (DRP) - the DRP  average for this group was 85 - while 67% of B-level students (for whom scores were available) reached at least the benchmark DRP of 64.
Individual reports on each student are available in the EOS Guidance Office.  Counselors have been reviewing these reports with students during scheduled meetings that have been conducted since the beginning of October.

As already noted, there has been growing concern in recent years about the amount of time that children (and adults, for that matter) spend reading on their own.  EOS students were asked back in 2008 on the High Student Engagement Survey administered to 1170 students about how important it is to "read and study for class".  Forty-five percent of students in mostly "A" level courses felt it was a top priority or very important while 21% in primarily "B" level courses viewed it as very important or a top priority.  When asked in this same survey how much time they spend each week reading for themselves, almost half the A-level population reported spending an hour or less while over half of B-level students spent fewer than 60 minutes.

Reading Is to Writing...

Several experts point to the critical link between reading and writing - that the quality of one's written expression is related to an individual's reading patterns.  In other words, it's hard to write clearly and coherently if you're not reading the written word.  What do you think? 

Try this analogy:  reading is to writing as ________________is to_____________.

Send your response to dmelody@eosmith.org.  Really!  Replies will be posted next week.  No names mentioned, if that's your preference. 

Articles of Interest

(Wall Street Journal)
(Atlantic Monthly)
(Washington Post)



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