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Dear Reader, Pllllease Sllllow Doooown

NH Professor Pushes for Return to Slow Reading

Holly Ramer

Patti Flynn, an assistant principal in Nashua, N.H., helps her 10-year-old-daughter Lily sound out words as Lily reads from one of her books, at home in Nashua, N.H., Wednesday, June 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

Slow readers of the world, uuuuuuuu...niiiiite!

a time when people spend much of their time skimming websites, text
messages and e-mails, an English professor at the University of New
Hampshire is making the case for slowing down as a way to gain more
meaning and pleasure out of the written word.

Thomas Newkirk
isn't the first or most prominent proponent of the so-called "slow
reading" movement, but he argues it's becoming all the more important
in a culture and educational system that often treats reading as fast
food to be gobbled up as quickly as possible.

"You see schools
where reading is turned into a race, you see kids on the stopwatch to
see how many words they can read in a minute," he said. "That tells
students a story about what reading is. It tells students to be fast is
to be good."

Newkirk is encouraging schools from elementary
through college to return to old strategies such as reading aloud and
memorization as a way to help students truly "taste" the words. He uses
those techniques in his own classroom, where students have told him
that they've become so accustomed from flitting from page to page
online that they have trouble concentrating while reading printed books.

student told me even when he was reading a regular book, he'd come to a
word and it would almost act like a hyper link. It would just send his
mind off to some other thing," Newkirk said. "I think they recognize
they're missing out on something."

The idea is not to read
everything as slowly as possible, however. As with the slow food
movement, the goal is a closer connection between readers and their
information, said John Miedema, whose 2009 book "Slow Reading" explores
the movement.

"It's not just about students reading as slowly as
possible," he said. "To me, slow reading is about bringing more of the
person to bear on the book."

Miedema, a technology specialist at
IBM in Ottawa, Ontario, said little formal research has been done on
slow reading, other than studies on physical conditions such as
dyslexia. But he said the movement is gaining ground: the 2004 book "In
Praise of Slow: 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.

In a 2007 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the
executive humanities editor at Harvard University Press describes a
worldwide reading crisis and calls for a "revolution in reading."


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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," Lindsay Waters wrote.

slow, or close reading, always has been emphasized at the college-level
in literary criticism and other areas, it's also popping up in
elementary schools, Miedema said.

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."

It's all about balance, said Patti Flynn, an assistant principal in Nashua, N.H., and mother of a 10-year-old girl.

school has offered, and her daughter has participated in, numerous
reading challenges that reward students for reaching certain milestones
_ a pizza party for a class that reads 100 books, for example. Though
such contests may appear to emphasize speed rather than reading for
pleasure or comprehension, they also are good incentives for children
who weren't motivated to read, she said. The challenges have encouraged
parents to make reading a priority at home, Flynn said.

"The goal
shouldn't be to be whipping through a certain number of pages, the goal
should be to make sure kids are gaining some conceptual understanding,"
she said.

Her daughter, Lily, said she considers herself a
"medium-speed" reader and had to increase her speed to finish about 10
books for her classroom's 100-book challenge. But she said she enjoyed
the process and feels like she understood and remembers what she read.

"It was fun," she said.

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