Language & Composition

Mr. Eure | Brewster High School

Tag Archives: walls of text

Your Reading Life

When we talk about reading in an English classroom, we’re usually talking about one subset of one mode of discourse: fictional narratives in novel form. This is a limited view of reading—important, of course, but also limited. You read far more in your daily life than novels like 1984 or Of Mice and Men. You read Facebook feeds, Twitter feeds, emails, newspapers, magazines, textbooks, text messages, advertisements, and handouts, to name only part of the total list. So we ought to start the discussion with a broad question:

What does your reading life look like?

Answer this in your compendium or Google Drive, and then, as we discuss your thoughts in class, transfer the conversation into the comments section of this post. To begin, it might help to have a sort of metaphor—in this case, that your reading habits are a kind of diet. There are as many types of texts out there as there are types of food, and as many approaches to reading as to eating. Some people believe you need a balance to be healthy; others promote one particular focus over others. This isn’t to suggest that the novels you’re assigned in English class are healthy, while Twitter and text messages are junk food, however. It’s simply to point out that you are consuming text constantly and in many, many different forms, and that there as many fads in reading instruction as there are in dieting. basic definition of reading is the act of processing letters and words to construct meaning. You can read more about the process here, and I’d pay careful attention to the following concept (paraphrased from that article):

Rates of reading include reading for memorization (fewer than 100 words per minute [wpm]); reading for learning (100–200 wpm); reading for comprehension (200–400 wpm); and skimming (400–700 wpm). Reading for comprehension is the essence of the daily reading of most people. Skimming is for superficially processing large quantities of text at a low level of comprehension (below 50%).  The average wpm at age 14-15 when reading for learning is 150 wpm.

The spectrum between skimming (e.g., when you read Wikipedia for two hours, then forget everything you read) and reading to memorize (e.g., when you study for a test in a history class) is important to this discussion. You need a sense of how quickly you consume information, what you do with that information, and how long it stays with you. It might help to know that 150 words look like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Sed vitae libero a felis condimentum bibendum id aliquet tortor. Donec vitae tortor a massa scelerisque ornare quis in nibh. Aliquam ornare lacinia cursus. Sed id enim sit amet tellus faucibus commodo ac nec augue. Aenean eget nulla nisi, ac suscipit leo. Nulla a vestibulum ligula. In sit amet nibh dui, vitae elementum dolor. Duis varius dapibus mauris vel dictum. Donec lobortis velit a lectus convallis quis blandit felis aliquet. Sed mollis placerat semper. Nunc ut massa eu dui iaculis eleifend pellentesque non ipsum. Fusce tellus urna, tincidunt nec mollis ac, blandit pretium ante. Ut imperdiet tellus sed lacus convallis et adipiscing urna porta. Etiam sagittis varius sapien, sed pharetra nibh pulvinar nec. Curabitur ornare ornare quam eu auctor. Vivamus quis ante vel dolor suscipit blandit. Ut gravida tempor porttitor. Nunc nec velit magna, in auctor orci. Curabitur ultrices, ipsum eget dignissim.

That’s longer than most text messages and Facebook updates, and it would take seven tweets to post it. How does it compare to the average email you read? The average article on a website? The average textbook chapter? You read all of those things regularly—websites, textbooks, text messages—and it’s time to start thinking about how much you’re reading, what that means to your life as a reader, and the extent to which it affects your thinking and writing.

Note in your initial writing (and again in the conversation in class and online) whether you are skimming, reading for comprehension, reading for learning, or memorizing the texts you consume; note also how your reading diet changes over the weekend, on breaks, or over the summer. Focus your attention, however, on your average school day, and describe your reading life in terms that make sense to you.

Final question: Can you discuss your reading life without also discussing your writing life? When you write, you also read; when you edit or revisit your writing, you read again. How does that realization change your answer about your reading habits?