Category Archives: Reading

Ideas for Presentation on Reading (not really an outline)

Intro: Last year while reading about dyslexia I encountered an article called “The Ecology of Dyslexia.” It described the different views taken of dyslexia, based on training and motivation (i.e. parents vs. educators vs. neurologists vs. individuals with dyslexia) and the importance of understanding these differing groups, and of depending on each of their areas of expertise. In the same way it would benefit information professionals to consider the ecology of reading — the varying views and definitions taken by the academically inclined, by the educationally motivated and by the emotionally charged.

Definitions of literacy:

  • There was a time when you were considered literate if you knew how to sign your name
  • Humans have not been reading for that long; the majority of people have not been reading for very long at all
  • Rich countries are not necessarily those with the highest literacy rates
  • NEA report
  • Educators use fluency as key measurement — reading text with speed, accuracy, and expression (National Reading Panel, 2000)
  • We are now being given ever-expanding definitions of information literacy, some of which go so far as to include indicators of social behaviour and belonging
  • Reading and writing are in fact less related than we might think. (We learn a lot about the brain by studying people with brain injuries, identifying which area of the brain has been affected and determining which functions have been harmed.) In The Brain That Changes Itself, Doidge describes a patient of famous neurologist Aleksandr Luria, who, after having received a bullet in his brain, could write but could no longer read, the former being an intentional activity while the latter is mainly perceptual.
  • The Ball & Moeller hypertext article stresses the need for other measurements of literacy aside from academic literacy — understanding links, design and navigation are every bit as important to “reading” most of the text that comes at us these days as knowing where the index will be in a book; Schroeder’s Table of Comparison of Institutional vs. Student-Perceived Academic Literacies shows the difference between what instructors think they are teaching and what students are learning. Ball and Moeller argue the need for “critical literacy skills” that address reading of not only academic formatted papers, but new media as well.
  • Mark Twain quote: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” What is the use of being literate if you don’t make use of it? Is knowing how to retrieve and interpret information a good measure?
  • There is no rigid definition — it is a concept in flux.

Evaluating of these definitions:

The moral of this story, simple as it is: reading is different for everyone. Our own personal experience is likely different from other people’s, in some ways. Not everyone enjoys reading — enjoyment of the reading experience becomes an important measure of the print literacy experience. If it were up to me, I would promote the idea of literacy, or at least functional literacy, as one requiring a definition based on an individual’s needs and environment. Is this person happy with their level of literacy? Is he or she able to read to his or her children? Is this person able to gain and interpret reliable medical and community information? (Illustration: A dyslexic university student can get government funding to purchase her own personal computer, scanner, OCR software, text-to-voice and voice-to-text conversion software. If this person is fully competent with computers, is able to scan her textbooks and play them back in audio form so as to have the textbook read to her, dictate her paper and have it automatically transcribed, use screenreader software to access blogs, FaceBook and Wikipedia and every other source of information a university accesses, is this person still functionally illiterate? These technologies may not be 100% reliable yet, but they are infinitely closer than they were ten years ago. In ten more years, what will our definition of functional literacy be?)


We can — and should — assume that the definition of literacy will continue to evolve (expand on this).


Understanding the Divergent Influences of Reading Activities (Erten & Karakas)

Erten, I. K. & Karakas, M. (2007). Understanding the divergent influences of reading activities on the comprehension of short stories. The Reading Matrix, 7 (3): 113-133. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from

This study compared the comprehension of two groups of students who had been given the same Faulkner short story to read, but been engaged in different types of pre-reading and during-reading activities. Basing the study on research that analyzed different types of reading-related activities and showed that apt readers were more likely to exert a range of such activities, they were able to show that students who participated in different types of reading activities displayed different types of comprehension.

Aside from the experiment itself, this article includes a brief and enlightening review of research in the reading process and comprehension. It describes the “shift from a perception of reading as a rather passive process towards that of an interactive process” (114), describing this leading model of reading as an interactive process as one involving both bottom-up and top-down processes. The review also introduces the concept of schemata (background knowledge) and its role in an individual’s comprehension. The concept is a complex one, with several identified types of schemata: content schemata, formal schemata and abstract schemata. The review also points out identified cognitive behaviours of good and poor readers (separated into pre-reading, during-reading and post-reading activities) that can be targeted and developed in poor readers. For example, “good” readers typically engage in the following pre-reading activities: they activate prior knowledge, they understand the task and set purpose, the choose appropriate strategies for reading. Meanwhile “poor” readers start reading without preparation, read without knowing why and read without considering how to approach the material (116).

I can’t help but think that event the best readers are poor readers at time, and that this may account for variance in comprehension in an individual. However, at the same time, other research has indicated that apt readers are more likely to be able to make up for certain inadequacies (i.e. lack of background knowledge) than poorer readers.

Referring to prior research by Widdowson, Brantmeier and Saricoban, Erten and Karakas define effective readers as “those who can automatically engage in an interactive reading process”(117). Perhaps I should collect all these definitions for reading-related measures, i.e. effective readers, good readers, poor readers, literacy, fluency, information literacy, and see how they all fit together?

Student readers’ use of library documents (O’Hara et al)

O’Hara, K., Smith, F., Newman, W., and Sellen, A. (1998). Student readers’ use of library documents: Implications for library technologies. SIGCHI98, 233-240. Retrieved from

Eureka! This research seems to confirm my own impression:

With the odd exception [e.g. 11,131] user-centred approaches have concentrated primarily on how users search for and retrieve information. As such, much of the design effort in the field has been aimed at providing support for these activities. As we will show in this paper, however, there is a great deal more document-related work that occurs once library users have retrieved their documents, and these activities have received far less attention in’ the literature (233).

These researchers have chosen to point out ways in which students reading (or information recording) is highly significant, and how, observed as part of the larger context of their total work, should be considered when developing library technologies and services. They have paid particular attention to students’ notes and annotations as an indicator of how they are digesting the material they read. PhD student participants kept a diary outlining different aspects of their library use over the course of a day, and subjected to an interview. The researchers then analyzed the nature of the information accessed and methods for acquiring them, as well as the format and content of the notes taken by the students.

The researchers determined that students displayed a range of purposes in how and why they take notes and annotate (some to be used immediately, some at a known future time, some at an uncertain time). Individual purposes noted include: information recording to focus attention and facilitate encoding, information recording for clarification and interpretation, information recording for mapping out directions for literature review, information review and re-use, and to create a portable resource.

As for recommendations to those providing support to students’ use of information resources, they recommended studying the impact of new technologies (such as annotation software) on other areas of the students’ work, not just on the immediate activity (for enlightening examples see p.239).

Nothing Remains the Same (W. Lesser)

Lesser, W. (2003). Nothing remains the same: Reading and remembering. New York: Mariner.

Clearly this is a book for lovers of books — those of us who feel nostalgic and sentimental about time we’ve spent with books.

Lesser is one of these people, but unusual in that she has not seen any real decrease in the amount of reading in her life (unlike many of us). She has made it her career, and now edits her own literary magazine. In this book, she submits herself to re-readings of important books from her past, examining the difference between the two readings on whichever level is activated in each case. She recognizes that reading a book as an adolescent or as a young woman will necessarily be different from coming to it as a middle-aged woman. Similarly, she realizes that the body of work that she has read after the given text will affect her re-reading. Yet she finds surprise after surprise: books that have no effect upon re-reading despite having elicited intense reactions in the past, books from her adolescence that seem to outline her future worldview and life path in an almost uncanny way (although she could barely remember these aspects of the book before re-reading), and the transition from loving to admiring a book.

Above all, this book reminded me how intensely satisfying it is to read someone’s personal and passionate telling of a subject. Reading Lesser’s chapter on Don Quixote (which I have not read and never realized how massive it was), I was shocked at how enraptured I became. I had felt this before, reading Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, which I had bought for my sports-mad brother, and been baffled at how I could have been sucked into a book about soccer!

Back to Basics: The Role of Reading… (G. Eyre)

Eyre, G. (2003). Back to basics: The role of reading in preparing young people for the information society. Reference Services Review, 31(3), 219-226. Retrieved 1/22/2008, from

In the second half of this article, Eyre builds towards the main thrust of his argument: that children are under-exposed to imaginative literature, even though studies (namely Children as Readers by Spink, 1989) show that this is key in helping them develop in the following areas: physical, intellectual, language, emotional, personality, social, moral, spiritual (221). Eyre makes a case for studies examining the potential relationship between exposure to imaginative literature and information literacy.

Perhaps more interesting than this discussion are those that set it up in the first half of the article. Eyre alludes to the changing definition of literacy and to the increased emphasis on information literacy and ICT skills in the context of the looming “information age.”

The discussion of literacy aptly reminds that “literacy is a dynamic concept and gradually, as the needs of society have evolved, the requisites of being able to function within that society have expanded and the concept of literacy has also changed to fit the bill” (221). Specifically, he points out that “At one time a person was considered literate if they could sign their own name” (221). I can’t help but think that it would be naive to believe that literacy has and always will mean what we currently think it does. (Yet another article I’ve read recently pointed out that humans have not actually been reading text for very long — certainly not long enough for us to evolve in any way to compensate or promote it. And a friend pointed out that it is only recently that the majority of (Western Hemisphere, at least) people have become readers.) It might be an interesting exercise to imagine in what ways this definition might evolve.

The definition of information literacy is also discussed. Eyre maintains that “many discourses on information literacy tend to emphasize technological requirements” while an adequate reading level (and broader literacy level) is equally central, but underrepresented. One of the cited definitions of information literacy takes on so much that it could practically be renamed “existence literacy”: “Brown (1997) argues that information literacy actually subsumes a wide variety of skills and abilities including: critical thinking, problem solving, personal, social and communication skills, library and computer literacy” (221). I would love to see CARL alter its information literacy standards so as to test levels of social skills…

Reading in trains and buses

My friend Amish and I were reminiscing a few weeks ago about some of our favourite settings for reading. He remembered blissfully a train ride across Canada, accompanied by a faithful pile of books. As for me, I had just been on a 6-hour bus trip, and felt like I had finally rediscovered the joy of reading. Looking up from my book midway, I clearly remember thinking “I’m cured!”.

(Although this intense rekindling with reading was certainly due in great part to the venue, I must admit that the content of the book, Wendy Lesser’s Nothing Remains the Same, was ideally suited for this sort of intense reading encounter.)

I certainly hope that Via Rail will raise its Internet connection rates so that, should I escape into reading by way of train one of these days, the availability of connectibility will not be too tempting. There are so few places of solace left…

When reading is unpleasurable

Is it disrespectful of the art of writing to feel that much of reading is inherently unpleasurable? Under certain circumstances (when in a hurry, when forced to do so, when someone is looking over your shoulder, when the material is poorly written, when your eyes are tired) reading can be a chore. For many (especially those with print disabilities) reading is a difficult and frustrating activity. For those who were never encouraged to do so, it is a waste of time. And for all of us, much of the reading we do (scanning junk mail and the endless listserv postings that come into our email Inbox, reading the fine print, reading office memos) is a source of irritation. So is it a stretch to think that this irritation might have an effect on our broader perception of reading?