Literate non-readers

Not everyone has to enjoy reading to read well, writes Ms. Teacher in response to a comment on the Edspresso reading debate, “A child who can read but doesn’t is a non-reader and a child who can’t read is a non-reader. Same result.” Ms. Teacher disagrees:

. . . when we teach mathematics, do we insist that all children must love math?

. . . I am someone who “can do math” but doesn’t because I’ve never enjoyed math. Am I, therefore equal, to someone who cannot “do math” at all?

She’s married to a man who considers fiction a waste of time.

However, give him a magazine on coins, or cars, or wine, and he’ll devour it. I do not think that he would say that reading is one of this favorite things to do because for him it is simply a way to gather information on something that he is interested in and then he wants to move on.

I suspect this is not uncommon for males. My husband reads non-fiction and science fiction, preferably by Isaac Asimov. I doubt he’s read a non-sci-fi novel since high school. But, if he wanted to, he could.

The first and essential step to a love of reading is learning to read fluently.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Switch him to Heinlein, quick. Asimov faded in the stretch.

  2. I wish there were more emphasis placed on teaching reading for the utility of it (non-fiction) than for “reading for its own sake.” To me, that argument has always seemed like it’s an attempt to dictate what fun is. It seems silly to dictate what another person should find entertaining.

    I’ve wondered if the gap between boys’ and girls’ reading scores would be less if the passages on comprehension tests were based on video game reviews. The non-fiction passage(s) on my state’s reading test are poor attempts to counter-balance the fictional narratives they often use. They still seem overly chatty and feely and don’t resemble what the boys I know read.

  3. wayne martin says:

    > I’ve wondered if the gap between boys’ and girls’ reading
    > scores would be less if the passages on comprehension tests
    > were based on video game reviews.

    Interesting thought.

    Presumably, if we cast about we could find some reading research that would validate that point-of-view. Providing boys reading segments that are as interesting to them as to girls might close the “reading gap” perceived from current testing.

  4. I don’t think the two examples of non-readers result in the same thing at all. Someone who doesn’t read for pleasure can still read road signs, packaging, application forms, and other day-to-day items while someone who cannot read has to rely on pictures or another person to navigate.

    Similarly, someone who doesn’t do math for pleasure but can is going to be able to understand many financial situations that will be frustrating to the person who doesn’t understand the difference between 10 cents and .10 cents or that 1/2 and 0.5 mean the same thing.

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    Without a doubt alot of reading instruction has become about “teaching them to love reading”. Only problem is some teachers think the only way to love reading is by reading fiction. They’re almost cultish in their insistance that everyone should love LITERATURE and their teaching reflects their beliefs. I do love to read fiction, but my MBA husband has read only one fiction book in the past 17 years (Lord Jim). Gardening, woodworking, travel, science and Aikido books, he has read.

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    How long will paper last?

  7. Bill Leonard says:

    Interesting thread and responses! It brought to mind a period in our younger son’s life when, throughout his teenage years, the only reading for “for plesure” that interested him was the Bill James Baseball Abstract and the sports pages. He could — and can — read extremely well, but in those days he was interested principally in sports. As an adult, he still is. Thankfully, he can afford his own Giants tickets these days.

  8. Myrtle is exactly right. I’m fed up with the morality play around reading. You don’t have to love reading. It’s merely an efficient way to transmit information. That’s why it’s important.

    After that, it’s also useful to use the information transmission technique to read the great thoughts of history and learn how to form opinions and write about them. But that’s not reading. It’s critical thinking and writing.

    BTW, there is no gender performance gap in reading. The “nation’s report card” test is predominantly a writing test, where girls do tend to have an advantage. In all college admissions tests and other advanced tests with a heavy reading component, boys either outperform girls or hold even.

  9. Thanks, Cal. I will consider myself disabused from that belief.

  10. wayne martin says:

    > there is no gender performance gap in reading.

    The California CST/ELA (English Language Arts) shows a gap. (I expect that this test is tilted towards reading, but have never actually seen a copy.)

  11. I don’t think the two examples of non-readers result in the same thing at all. Someone who doesn’t read for pleasure can still read road signs, packaging, application forms, and other day-to-day items while someone who cannot read has to rely on pictures or another person to navigate.

    This is exactly what I tried to tell that silly Ruby woman at Edspresso. The WL zealots don’t understand that making kids feel good about reading and books isn’t the same thing as actually teaching them to read books.

    Similarly, someone who doesn’t do math for pleasure but can is going to be able to understand many financial situations that will be frustrating to the person who doesn’t understand the difference between 10 cents and .10 cents or that 1/2 and 0.5 mean the same thing.

    I don’t know if you saw that thing going around on the Web about this guy who recorded his conversations with Verizon reps. He said they were overcharging him. They couldn’t understand decimals, either.

  12. Here are the NAEP 2005 reading results by gender: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/nrc/reading_math_2005/s0010.asp?printver=

    And, you can see sample questions here (the top one looks biased in favor of boys!) http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/nrc/reading_math_2005/s0016.asp?printver=

    In my tutoring, I have found a few more boys than girls with reading problems. However, my sample size, while unfortunately very large, is not large enough to be statistically significant.

    There is a reason more and more restaurants have pictures of their food. Reading First is starting to change that (see this article: http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_1_reading_first.html), but more needs to be done. I have a few suggestions here about what individuals can do to help: http://www.thephonicspage.org/On%20Phonics/fixproblem.html

  13. First, if he likes Asimov, have him try Bruce Sterling. That way he’s got another couple dozen hard SF novels.

    Second, it’s silly to say that, in order for someone to be literate, they have to like someone else’s version of literature. Or even to read for pleasure.

    There are times in life. Sometimes you can read for pleasure, sometimes you do well just to have all your clothes on when you leave the house. If you have the skill, then when you are ready for the experience, you *can* read. If you don’t, then the district ought to be sued for malpractice.

  14. Switch him to Heinlein, quick. Asimov faded in the stretch

    Heinlein was hit or miss for me, although The Door Into Summer is my alltime favorite SF novel.

    Asimove ALWAYS delivered for me.

  15. Heinlein and Asimov have both been dead for years.  Try Neil Stephenson; the novels “Snow Crash” and “Cryptonomicon” are fun, and the Baroque Trilogy was so good I bought them in hardcover.

    Lois McMaster Bujold and John Varley are also excellent reads, and just about anyone with a sense of humor will get a kick out of Terry Pratchett.

  16. It strikes me that the goal of schools should be:

    a. teach people TO read. I mean, have them become skilled in it. (And I like the argument about trying out non-fiction passages on reading-comprehension tests. Though, I vaguely remember some of the tests I took having history or science-related passages to read and answer questions on).

    b. not squash out the joy of reading that some kids feel (and trust me: I’m an avid reader but there were times in my schooling that I just got so blinking SICK of the whole “look for alllllll the symbolism and be prepared to comment on it” that I just wanted to stop reading. Sometimes, you just want a good story and you don’t want to worry about how it shadows a Shakespeare plot or is a parable of America of the 1950s or somesuch.)

    Loving reading: I think that’s better conveyed in the home. (I became a reader because my parents had lots of books lying around, going to the library was a weekly ritual, my parents both read to me a llot when I was young). And perhaps some kids are just predisposed- genetically or something – to not like reading. I don’t think you can force a love of reading on people. You can make books available, you can try to show the fun of reading, but I don’t think you can ever force anyone to love anything, nor should you.

    And some kids just won’t LIKE reading. While I find that hard to understand emotionally, I accept it intellectually. Now, if they get to college and insist that they should be allowed to use Wikipedia rather than books-by-experts-in-the-field for research because Wikipedia involves less reading, then we have to talk. But I don’t care if someone doesn’t go home and devour a novel every night for fun.

  17. Ricki:

    What IS a skilled reader? Isn’t identifying symbolism and archetypes and all that part of being a skilled reader?

    I can see where one might argue that such literature-reading skills are only worthwhile to critics and academics, but certainly the skill of being a critical reader, of dissecting language and meaning, plays a part in citizenship. We now have a very sophisticated political disinformation industry (across the ideological spectrum, right and left) so I’d say being able to dicipher the rhetorical fallacies and linguistic manipulations is a civic survival skill.

    As for conveying a love of reading in the home with book-loving parents, this begs the obvious question: what if your students come from homes in which books are not loved nor even owned and parents, if there are any, are not literate?

    Aren’t those students also entitled to the opportunity to love reading?

  18. mike from oregon says:

    I disagree that a someone who can read but doesn’t is equal to a non-reader. If you can read at least you can function in the world. You can read ingredient lists on packages if you want/need to (witness the recent pet food situation). You can read emergency instructions for a raft, a signal flare, etc. – if you never learned to enjoy reading, then it’s your loss, but you’re not in the same boat as someone who can’t read.

    That said, fiction (even science fiction) bores me. I like reading history, politics (sans the left wing nonsense), biographies, books on my hobbies, magazines, newspapers, etc. I don’t belittle or think that people who read fiction are … anything – it’s to each their own, fiction doesn’t do it for me; but by anyone’s measure I’m a reader (minimum of 20 books a year and countless magazines and newspapers).

  19. “Isn’t identifying symbolism and archetypes and all that part of being a skilled reader?”

    No.

    “Here are the NAEP 2005 reading results by gender: ….”

    Here is a sample NAEP question for 4th graders. Here’s another

    Those aren’t reading questions.

    The math questions are better, but many of them distort math into writing, as this one does.

    There’s really no value in the NAEP.

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