A push for 'slow reading'

While schools push students to read fluently and quickly, some argue for “slow reading,” including reading aloud and memorization, reports AP.

The 2004 book In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Changing the Cult of Speed sprang from author Carl Honore’s realization that his “rushaholism” had gotten out of hand when he considered buying a collection of “one-minute bedtime stories” for his children.

We need a “revolution in reading,” wrote Lindsay Waters, a Harvard University Press editor, in a 2007 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Instead of rushing by works so fast that we don’t even muss up our hair, we should tarry, attend to the sensuousness of reading, allow ourselves to enter the experience of words.”

Elementary schools are starting to encourage close reading, says John Miedema, author of  Slow Reading.

Mary Ellen Webb, a third-grade teacher at Mast Way Elementary School in Durham, N.H., has her students memorize poems upward of 40 lines long and then perform them for their peers and parents. She does it more for the sense of pride her students feel but said the technique does transfer to other kinds of reading — the children remember how re-reading and memorizing their poems helped them understand tricky text.

“Memorization is one of those lost things, it hasn’t been the ‘in’ thing for a while,” she said. “There’s a big focus on fluency. Some people think because you can read quickly … that’s a judge of what a great reader they are. I think fluency is important, but I think we can err too much on that side.”

I like memorizing, especially poetry, but I hate reading aloud. It’s too slow.

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  1. I’m much in favor of memorizing literary passages. It stretches mental capacity, such that college professors would no longer need to complain of students unable to read college-level texts (old comments from this site) because they had forgotten the beginning of sentences by the time they reached the end of them!!! Kids could also learn multiplication tables, equivalent fractions/decimals/percentages, important dates, events, places and all kinds of useful things.

  2. Reading aloud is OK if you don’t overdo it–students should read an interesting passage in discussions. This is great preparation for public speaking.

    Fast reading, slow reading? Somebody needs to wise up and realize that your speed needs to vary with the material and its importance. I don’t drive my sports car 75 mph in the neighborhood, but I do crank it up on the long open road. Same with reading.

  3. Grey’s “Elegy In County Churchyard” has to be memorized, seems to me. Without memorization the response to…

    “Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault
    If memory o’er their tomb no trophies raise
    Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
    The pealing anthem swells the note of praise”

    is likely to be: “Huh?”. If you memorize the stanza, you see that the last two lines form an adjectival phrase which modifies “tomb”.

    Swinburne has a line: “The mute clear music of her amorous mouth” which has to be read aloud to be appreciated. Pronouncing the line “moves the mouth into the position of a kiss” as one critic observed. How would you catch that without reading the poem aloud?

    There’s no more point in rushing through Pynchon’s __Gravity’s Rainbow__ than in rushing through a meal at a fine restaurant. You paid for the experience. Savor it.

    I read slowly.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:
  5. “Mom, Gramps is telling the story again.”

  6. Malcom, thanks.

    I’ve never attempted Pynchon, but William James and even Sir A. Conan Doyle beg to be read aloud.

    In the early grades, we know that good readers are fast readers.

    But after third grade, speed can just be an individual difference.

    My son has done poorly on a few important tests because he didn’t finish in time.

    The time element, I’m afraid, has more to do with convenience for the teacher than the validity of the test.

    Because I’ve been a slower worker all my life, I always allow my students to take their work home to finish it before it’s turned in.

    Most students who do well on tests finish early. Most but not all. Not I, not my son, not lots of others. Just most.

    As for memorization, I’m concerned that my seventh graders think a sonnet is too long to memorize. They’re convinced of it. Every year I feel compelled to convince them otherwise.

    Before I had tenure, I was asked by the drama teacher to stand in for a student actor who suddenly got sick. I had 132 lines to memorize plus all the cues. It took two pots of coffee, a curtain in three hours, and the realization that one I had tenure, I’d never go through anything like this again.

    Once a 7th grader memorizes a sonnet, they gain a greater confidence in their ability to learn.

  7. The most enjoyable aspect of memorization is the evolving understanding you gain of the piece. It can be such a pleasure to recite something when you have an intimate familiarity with it and the words roll off your tounge, and rather than pure recall, you can focus on accent and emphasis.

  8. Diana Senechal says:

    I took a rushed look at a “Slow Movement” website. While skeptical of a movement along these lines, I find some of the ideas sound. Their argument seems to be that we need to slow down in order to connect better with our world (other people, what we read, etc.) But in that case it’s not only a question of slowing down but of simplifying what we do in a given moment. “Multitasking” is distracting. See Dan Willingham’s article in the Summer 2010 issue of American Educator.

    Along with slowing down and focusing, there is something else–the practice of taking something into one’s mind and heart. This is the opposite of the practice of the “inside-dopester” according to David Riesman’s description: the one who knows the inside scoop on everything and cares about none of it. The practice of memorization encourages a certain kind of treasuring, as the words become part of your life.

  9. They made us read __Silas Marner__ in high school. I did not like it, and read slowly. A friend who had taken the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics course and claimed to read over 1000 words per minute blazed through it. Trouble is, he missed that the sleigh accident was not accidental, that Silas and Mattie (?, it’s been 40+ years) were attempting suicide. Kinda important to the story, no?

    Robin, I recommend __Gravity’s Rainbow__. Different authors are good for different things. Solzhenitsyn does arguments well. Grossman (__Life and Fate__) does disturbed mental states well. Pynchon is great at sensory imagery. Nobody does the sense of taste as well as Pynchon in the scene when Darleen (?. Again, it’s been years) and her landlady ply Slothrop with British “candy”. Or consider the scene in which Slothrop attempts to escape pursuit in a hot air balloon and the forces of evil commandeer an airplane which appears “out of a sky so blue you can reach out, take it between your fingers, rub, and bring them back blue…”.

  10. Malcolm, you’re thinking about Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. I also had to read it in high school and didn’t like it. It was so depressing.

    I’m not a Pynchon fan either. Solzhenitsyn is quite good. Schools should require One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. It’s short — and there’s no sex!

  11. Right. Silas Marner…We read both. Sorry ’bout the confusion.

  12. I did not like either.

    I love Solzhenitsyn’s “Matryona’s Home”, but many would find that depressing.

  13. Charles R. Williams says:

    I remember in humanities class spending one week on two pages of Descartes’s Meditations. I remember reading Abstract Algebra at the rate of one hour per page. When I was in high school, speed reading was the rage but there is nothing worth reading that can be digested at the speeds students attained.

    My wife speed reads junk novels. I read the psalms, sometimes out loud. I’ll stick to the Psalms. Reading them out loud forces you to slow down and digest. The repetitive nature of Hebrew poetry helps too.

    I suppose you could puree a wonderful Thai dinner and be done eating in ten minutes.

  14. One of the most wonderful things, I realized, about being out of humanities classes was that I could read novels at whatever pace I wanted to.

    (I once took a great books class where we had less than a week to read 300 pages of Plato. Needless to say, I don’t remember much of it).

    A few years back, I took about 6 months and read “Middlemarch.” It was great and I loved it – I think all the more because I wasn’t pressed to read it FAST. (or write an analytical paper on it that would be pleasing to some prof’s particular hobby-horse.)


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