“Hi, my name is Beth and I am addicted to reading”…. there I confessed it…my kids are convinced that I need counseling and a support group. I say….I just need a blog and a book club! I have been a binge reader since I was a kid and I read so fast that I can “put down” a novel in a few hours. So…what’s the problem? The problem is remembering everything I read.
Recently The Week, my favorite magazine, ran a two page article titled, Why You Forget Most of What you Read. This article, originally posted at theatlantic.com and written by Julie Beck, caught my eye. As an elementary teacher at a school that is on a mission to get all kids to read and respond to text, I was totally intrigued! We teach kids to read so they can learn. We read lots of content text (social studies and science) to help students learn new things. Certainly I want them to retain what they read. So, I poured over those two pages not once, not twice, but many times (so many times I have lost count) to glean some tidbits to strengthen my instructional practice.
So what did I learn? First they talked about how in this internet age we are bombarded with information. So much information that it is no longer as important to memorize as much as we once did. As I read that, I thought….”then why hasn’t instruction and assessment, especially in our secondary classrooms and higher education, changed much in the last 50 years?” The article states that research show that, “When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself.” The articles goes on talk about how much of ancient history was passed down in stories from memory but that as they began to be written down we no longer had to rely on memory to pass on and document history.
The next part of the article really intrigued me. It talks about a study of people that binge-watched tv show vs. those that watch the show once a day or week. 140 days after viewing the show both groups were quizzed about it. The group that binge-watched the show scored much lower than those that watched it once a day or week. Beck notes that we are not only bingeing on tv but also the written word. Each day the average American encounters 100,000 words, even if they don’t read them all and that most of the reading we do is “consumption”; where we read to obtain information. The implications are simple….read SLOWER and SPACE THEM OUT!
Instantly, upon reading this, I made a connection. This fall I started reading From Striving to Thriving by Harvey and Ward. I read pieces of it each night over the course of a month. I took a lot a way from this book; probably more than I have ever taken away from a professional book. In fact, I can still months later, flip into that book quickly and point out something to a teacher. On the other hand, I read the entire book, Disruptive Thinking by Beers and Probst in less than 3 hours (yes, cover to cover). I even marked it up and used sticky notes throughout. Wouldn’t you know it…I can barely remember much of what I read just a couple weeks later. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book…but clearly because I binge-read the book, I did not retain the information nearly as well as I did From Striving to Thriving.
So…what am I taking away from all of this for my instruction? First I see the important of time and reading. If we want kids to retain information it is critical that they spend time with it…not just bunches of minutes all at once but…over time. This is why putting together units of study using the UBD model are so important! We need to “marinade our students” in topics of study not just dip their toes into a topic if we want them to retain it.
Second, it is critically important that we continue to try to bring our instructional practices up to meet this information age. Memorizing facts should not be front in center in our teaching….but problem solving to find information we need, synthesizing information, thinking critically, and doing something with information to go beyond facts should be what is driving our instruction in all subjects.
Well…that’s my two cents on the subject. I hope you are intrigued enough to click the link above and read this two page article. I hope it will impact you as much as it did me. I’d love to hear your feedback as well!