Literacy

The Pursuit of Ignorance

Americans Score Poorly in Numeracy, Literacy and Computer Skills

Are reality shows turning our brains to mush?

The Washington Post reports: Policymakers and politicians who wring their hands about the mediocre performance of U.S. students on international math and reading tests have another worry: The nation’s grown-ups aren’t doing much better.

A first-ever comparison of adults in the United States and those in other democracies found that Americans were below average when it comes to skills needed to compete in the global economy.

The survey, released Tuesday, measured the literacy, math and computer skills of about 5,000 U.S. adults between ages 16 and 65, and compared them with similar samples of adults from 21 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Americans are “decidedly weaker in numeracy and problem-solving skills than in literacy, and average U.S. scores for all three are below the international average and far behind the scores of top performers like Japan or Finland,” said Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the data collection arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Want To Read Others' Thoughts? Try Reading Literary Fiction

Your ability to "read" the thoughts and feelings of others could be affected by the kind of fiction you read.

That's the conclusion of a study in the journal Science that gave tests of social perception to people who were randomly assigned to read excerpts from literary fiction, popular fiction or nonfiction.

Full article

The New Explosion in Audio Books: How They Re-emerged as a Rare Bright Spot in the Publishing Business

Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2013.

Mr. Hewson has discovered that writing for audio requires different techniques from prose writing. Word repetition becomes glaringly obvious. So do unintentional rhymes. Location changes have to be telegraphed at the beginning of the scene, so that listeners aren't confused.

"Complex sentences, long subordinate clauses—they don't work, people get bored and confused by them," he says. "You're looking for the writing to disappear so that all people hear is the story."

The rapid rise of audio books has prompted some hand- wringing about how we consume literature. Print purists doubt that listening to a book while multitasking delivers the same experience as sitting down and silently reading. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that for competent readers, there is virtually no difference between listening to a story and reading it. The format has little bearing on a reader's ability to understand and remember a text. Some scholars argue that listening to a text might even improve understanding, especially for difficult works like Shakespeare, where a narrator's interpretation of the text can help convey the meaning.

Read more about it at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323854904578637850049098298.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_s...

To Stay Thin, Read Like the Cultural Elite

New research finds an association between lower body weight and participation in cultural and intellectual activities, including reading.

A scale that measures interest in ideas, art, and knowledge—by surveying the amount of time spent reading, attending cultural events, going to movies, and using the Internet—is associated as strongly as exercise with a lower body-mass index, or BMI (a measure of weight relative to height). In other words, reading and exercise appear similarly beneficial in terms of BMI.

What Kids Are Reading, In School And Out

Some experts are concerned that both in-school assignments and the books kids read for pleasure may not be challenging them enough.

Full piece on NPR

Guilt Complex: Why Leaving a Book Half-Read Is So Hard

.Until very recently, Michelle Ginder, a transportation planner in Seattle, forced herself to finish every book she cracked open. An avid reader, she says she felt "like a quitter" for giving up a novel halfway. Then, while plodding through John Sayles's 2011 "A Moment in the Sun" and "still not knowing what it was about," she made a conscious decision to put down the book. She moved on to something more gripping, reading the "Game of Thrones" series.

"It felt so good," Ms. Ginder, 39, says. "There was so much guilt associated with quitting, but when I finally did it, it was liberating."

In the age of the e-reader, dropping a book has never been easier: It doesn't even require getting up to grab another off the shelf. But choosing to terminate a relationship with a book prematurely remains strangely agonizing, a decision fraught with guilt.

Read more about it at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323469804578525354146879558.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_M...

Does Great Literature Make Us Better?

One reason people like Martha Nussbaum have argued for the benefits of literature is that literature, or fictional narrative of real quality, deals in complexity. Literature turns us away from the simple moral rules that so often prove unhelpful when we are confronted with messy real-life decision making, and gets us ready for the stormy voyage through the social world that sensitive, discriminating moral agents are supposed to undertake. Literature helps us, in other words, to be, or to come closer to being, moral “experts.”

The problem with this argument is that there’s long been evidence that much of what we take for expertise in complex and unpredictable domains – of which morality is surely one – is bogus. Beginning 50 years ago with work by the psychologist Paul Meehl, study after study has shown that following simple rules – rules that take account of many fewer factors than an expert would bother to consider – does at least as well and generally better than relying on an expert’s judgment. (Not that rules do particularly well either; but they do better than expert judgment.)

Read more about it at: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/01/does-great-literature-make-us-better/?hp

ABC Harder Than 123

From the New York Times:

David Javsicas, a popular seventh-grade reading teacher known for urging students to act out dialogue in the books they read in class, sometimes feels wistful for the days when he taught math.

A quiz, he recalls, could quickly determine which concepts students had not yet learned. Then, “you teach the kids how to do it, and within a week or two you can usually fix it,” he said.

Helping students to puzzle through different narrative perspectives or subtext or character motivation, though, can be much more challenging. “It could take months to see if what I’m teaching is effective,” he said.

Educators, policy makers and business leaders often fret about the state of math education, particularly in comparison with other countries. But reading comprehension may be a larger stumbling block.

Author Marilyn Johnson (& a few others) Weigh in on Print v Digital

From USA Today:

A recent survey found that half of all readers had no interest in buying e-books and that the vast majority of people who buy e-books continue to buy print books as well.

Among them are author Marilyn Johnson, who's written books about libraries (This Book Is Overdue) and the art of obituary writing (The Dead Beat). She says that "if you took my (physical) books away, I'd go crazy, but now that I've gotten hooked to readers (first a Kindle and now an iPad), I can't imagine doing without that (digital) library."
She finds her e-reader is essential when she's traveling. She even buys or borrows an e-book copy of a book she already owns "just to lighten my load and continue reading as I move through the landscape."

Johnson straddles any divide between print and digital.
Her ideal reading experience crosses all formats: "Hear the author read on an audiobook, read it myself on the page or e-reader, and own it in a beautiful dust jacket, alphabetized on a shelf, with my notes in the margins and an old review stuck in the pages, ready to be pulled down whenever I want."

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