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Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and…

by Mark Seidenberg

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922260,407 (3.93)1
A psychology professor specializing in the cognitive and neurological bases of language and reading discusses why children and adults have been incorrectly taught how to read and offers suggestions on how to vastly improve this vital life skill. Over half of our children read at a basic level and few become highly proficient. Many American children and adults are not functionally literate, with serious consequences. Poor readers are more likely to drop out of the educational system and as adults are unable to fully participate in the workforce, adequately manage their own health care, or advance their children's education. In this book, cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg reveals the underexplored science of reading, which spans cognitive science, neurobiology, and linguistics. As Seidenberg shows, the disconnect between science and education is a major factor in America's chronic underachievement. How we teach reading places many children at risk of failure, discriminates against poorer kids, and discourages even those who could have become more successful readers. Children aren't taught basic print skills because educators cling to the disproved theory that good readers guess the words in texts, a strategy that encourages skimming instead of close reading. Interventions for children with reading disabilities are delayed because parents are mistakenly told their kids will catch up if they work harder. Learning to read is more difficult for children who speak a minority dialect in the home, but that is not reflected in classroom practices. By building on science's insights, we can improve how our children read, and take real steps toward solving the inequality that illiteracy breeds. Both an expert look at our relationship with the written word and a rousing call to action, Language at the Speed of Sight is essential for parents, educators, policy makers, and all others who want to understand why so many fail to read, and how to change that.--Adapted from dust jacket.… (more)
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Now that I'm caught up on the science of reading thanks to Mark Seidenberg's Language at the Speed of Sight, I can say with confidence that the skill of learning how to read is both enormously complex and relatively straightforward. Fortunately, the complex part mostly happens behind the scenes in our brains so there isn't a lot to actively think about there. For example, there's a chart in the book showing the letter "A" but written in twenty different fonts. Each depiction is graphically different from the others, but each character is clearly an "A". Thank your brain for doing this visual heavy lifting for you. Similarly, it's possible to remove certain letters from words across entire paragraphs and still the paragraph is readable. It's all based on how we decode the context of what's being said. Again, your brain does this on the fly. But the letters matter and the context matters. Remove too much and it simply doesn't work.

The straightforward part of learning to read, while not easy, is to repeatedly practice reading using phonics. It'll take years for most people, and it's usually children who acquire this skill, but then they've got it. Unlike learning a language, which can be absorbed from simply existing in a culture, learning to read has to be specifically practiced. In other words, having someone read to you, and only reading to you, won't make you a reader. You need to do the coding work of reading yourself, i.e. applying meaning to the arbitrary pictographs on a page.

Overall, the book is informative but dense. But I wouldn't expect anything less from a science book about reading. I think the most surprising revelation for me is that speed reading is still scientifically unproven. If someone claims to be able to do this, chances are they are merely good skimmers. The fact is the eyes still need to scan the text—and to clarify, the eye movement more resembles darting than scanning—and the eyes can only go so fast. There's certainly a range where the exceptional readers do read faster than everyone else but go too fast and full comprehension will suffer. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Nov 16, 2022 |
Extremely in-depth look at how we actually read, including how a disorder like dyslexia functions to interfere with that process. The chapter on dyslexia really helped clarify the current debate about this condition, and I feel like I understand it much better. Siedenberg does a thorough job of explaining how necessary phonics in to the reading process. The analysis of the breakdown between the relevant research and the application of reading science in recent decades was spot-on and very illuminating. ( )
  Kanst | Nov 13, 2018 |
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A psychology professor specializing in the cognitive and neurological bases of language and reading discusses why children and adults have been incorrectly taught how to read and offers suggestions on how to vastly improve this vital life skill. Over half of our children read at a basic level and few become highly proficient. Many American children and adults are not functionally literate, with serious consequences. Poor readers are more likely to drop out of the educational system and as adults are unable to fully participate in the workforce, adequately manage their own health care, or advance their children's education. In this book, cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg reveals the underexplored science of reading, which spans cognitive science, neurobiology, and linguistics. As Seidenberg shows, the disconnect between science and education is a major factor in America's chronic underachievement. How we teach reading places many children at risk of failure, discriminates against poorer kids, and discourages even those who could have become more successful readers. Children aren't taught basic print skills because educators cling to the disproved theory that good readers guess the words in texts, a strategy that encourages skimming instead of close reading. Interventions for children with reading disabilities are delayed because parents are mistakenly told their kids will catch up if they work harder. Learning to read is more difficult for children who speak a minority dialect in the home, but that is not reflected in classroom practices. By building on science's insights, we can improve how our children read, and take real steps toward solving the inequality that illiteracy breeds. Both an expert look at our relationship with the written word and a rousing call to action, Language at the Speed of Sight is essential for parents, educators, policy makers, and all others who want to understand why so many fail to read, and how to change that.--Adapted from dust jacket.

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In this "important and alarming" book, see why so many American students are falling behind in their reading skills while others around the world excel (New York Times).
In 2011, when an international survey reported that students in Shanghai dramatically outperformed American students in reading, math, and science, President Obama declared it a "Sputnik moment": a wake-up call about the dismal state of American education. Little has changed, however, since then: over half of our children still read at a basic level and few become highly proficient. Many American children and adults are not functionally literate, with serious consequences. Poor readers are more likely to drop out of the educational system and as adults are unable to fully participate in the workforce, adequately manage their own health care, or advance their children's education.

In Language at the Speed of Sight, internationally renowned cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg reveals the underexplored science of reading, which spans cognitive science, neurobiology, and linguistics. As Seidenberg shows, the disconnect between science and education is a major factor in America's chronic underachievement. How we teach reading places many children at risk of failure, discriminates against poorer kids, and discourages even those who could have become more successful readers. Children aren't taught basic print skills because educators cling to the disproved theory that good readers guess the words in texts, a strategy that encourages skimming instead of close reading. Interventions for children with reading disabilities are delayed because parents are mistakenly told their kids will catch up if they work harder. Learning to read is more difficult for children who speak a minority dialect in the home, but that is not reflected in classroom practices. By building on science's insights, we can improve how our children read, and take real steps toward solving the inequality that illiteracy breeds.

Both an expert look at our relationship with the written word and a rousing call to action, Language at the Speed of Sight is essential for parents, educators, policymakers, and all others who want to understand why so many fail to read, and how to change that.
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