October 14, 2012
In today’s world, people read all of the time. Really. They do. The problem, though, is that people are not reading in the same ways as the past. We read posts on Facebook and tweets on Twitter. We read texts and instant messages and all sorts of poorly written ideas. Heck, we contribute much of the poor writing. But we’re reading more than not.
Though the fact that we do read so much is good, the problem is that we are not reading materials that are as challenging. We read daily, but the quality of what we’re reading is not exactly that of generation’s past. I mean, our grandparents grew up reading the newspaper every day. They learned to read by memorizing the classics and poems from all eras. Today’s kids may not even be exposed to classic literature until they make it to college, and by then they are so used to unchallenging reads that they struggle.
I can tell you that today’s college student struggles in the areas of reading, comprehension, and writing. I can hear you gasp right now. That’s right; students wrestle with the fundamentals of higher education. Anyone who has completed a college degree knows that American colleges and universities have curricula organized around reading, discussion, and writing. Students read and write in almost all classes. This means that students must comprehend in all classes. However, today’s freshmen find themselves struggling.
Why is that, you ask? Well, I have two theories. The first one has to do with the curriculum children receive in common education, that is elementary, middle, and high school. Today’s elementary student learns how to read, true. However, the method of teaching comprehension relies wholly on a method of testing called AR tests. What are AR tests? Good question—you must have been taught to comprehend and analyze what you read. Otherwise known as Accelerated Reader tests, these tests are given on a computer, which means they are a software-based test thus they assess whether or not a child has read a book. So instead of teaching children to understand what they are reading, the AR tests simply quiz the students on facts from the texts. Most of these are multiple-choice identification questions. This also means that they do not challenge the students for comprehension.
Simply being able to identify components of a text does not equate to understanding what they read or applying what they read to other concepts. Thus, no comprehension. I am a college English professor, and I most definitely deal with the repercussions of these AR tests on a daily basis. More and more students must take remediation—developmental English, Math, and Reading courses—than ever before. And most of these students are the average, traditional, just-graduated-from-high-school freshman. Unacceptable.
The second reason so many struggle with comprehension is that what they do read does not constitute quality reading. They spend so much time reading posts littered with grammar and mechanical mistakes that those eventually seep into their own writings. When they aren’t looking at posts on Facebook, they are looking at other social sites like Twitter or instant messaging each other or even sending emails that mimic posts from the other social media. I can’t tell you how often I receive emails that are so informal that I don’t know what the student is asking for. I’ve even seen text-ese (you know what I mean…u for you or idk for I don’t know or i for I or whatever) in formal, academic papers from good, intelligent students.
The problem with reading lots of really bad writing is that we pick up those bad habits. Those good, intelligent students who turned in papers with text-ese in them didn’t even realize they had done it. They were so used to using it in their personal lives that it slipped into their professional lives. Now, I’m not saying that informal, conversational writing is bad. Quite the contrary, I am a believer in the conversational voice (as witnessed in my blogs), but I do believe that we must challenge ourselves to read more than just posts. We must read longer works and studies and challenge our brains and our reading capabilities. If we don’t, we will lose this precious gift of reading. And, frankly, I’m not willing to do that. Neither should you be.
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