Reading: Is it important?

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Over on Community College English, Holly posted this after seeing a film and hearing a presentation about learning disabilities:

My reaction after seeing the film was to wonder how many of my students who seem to have difficulty reading might have some of these processing/perceptual problems and, more importantly, what I could do as a writing teacher to help them, to bring them towards competency in their reading, which is obviously what we want, I asserted confidently. No, said the ODS specialist firmly, not necessarily.

She talked about the technological possibilities now: student textbooks can be scanned in and converted from print-to-speech, web pages can be read aloud, and students can compose by talking into a microphone (a comprehensive, at least to my eyes, list of such technologies is given here). Within five years, she said, textbooks will be available as old-fashioned bound books, CD-ROMs, or downloadable mp3 files, format to be chosen by student.

So will my reluctant readers and writers now be eager listeners and talkers?

I share Holly's assumption that getting reluctant readers to become more competent at it is the goal.  But maybe reading-print-on-the-page is not the only way to go.  I'm excited about the notion that textbooks could be readily available in multiple formats.

But, wow, listening to audiobooks takes a lot longer than reading them.  I'm guessing that, for taking in extensive chunks of text (i.e. Moby Dick), reading on the page is still the best way to go.  Or am I wrong about that?




Last year a paid about $50 for a text-to-speech utility that does a fairly decent job... I paid a bit extra for high-quality voices, one male and one female, and I've listened to several dissertations, classic novels, and in some cases a few long blog entries that I knew I wanted to get through but knew I wouldn't have time.

I listen to these texts on my commute (which is pretty short, so I don't make much progress on a given day), or while I do routine stuff like folding laundry or grocery shopping.

All these fit in the category of "stuff I've been meaning to read but haven't found the time," but I was already motivated to read them. I'm not sure they would have held my attention if I wasn't already interested in them.

It took 14 hours to listen to all of Jane Eyre, a novel that I devoted about 6 classroom hours to. I hadn't read that book since I was an undergraduate, and when I listened to a computer voice read each line to me, I realized how much of that book I must have skimmed over.

I've also used text-to-speech to help me proofread drafts of articles I've recently written.

David Stanley said:

I only listen to audiobooks when I'm driving long distances which is to say that I rarely listen to audiobooks. When I read, quite often I find that there are certain passages that I like to read more than once, and oftentimes more than twice. I enjoy reading them different ways in my head--sometimes fast, sometimes taking my time on each word, etc. I'm not sure that I would get the same results by rewinding the player!

Lee McClain said:

David, that's cool that you read and re-read like that--music to a writer's ears. I think more people skim these days, rather than re-reading and savoring the text.

I've found that, when I have listened to an audiobook, I'm a little limited in that I imagine the book's words in that particular reader's voice.

Dennis, I also listen to audiobooks around the house, but I buy them from I-tunes so it's an expensive habit.

If I really like an audiobook, I want the print version. Guess I'm a print girl at heart.

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