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Is Reading in Crisis?

Are we entering an age (at least fifty years), marked by a crisis of reading, phenomena which is still unclear and difficult to understand the transformation of the way of reading, the value of learning to read and how to read?


One of the subjects most valued and most scrutinized in international assessments of students, from small ones of the fourth and fifth grade students olds sample of the PISA, is the understanding of written texts, or reading. No doubt this obsessive focus on reading that has even led to the IEA (International Association for Evaluation of Educational Achievement) to change the meaning of the acronym used to refer to the survey on the reading (PIRLS that now means "Survey PROGRESS registered on the international level in reading skills ", while in 1991 PIRLS meant" Survey Project on international reading skills "and before that, in the seventies it was not even a separate project) has allowed us to significantly improve the test reading comprehension, to develop a methodological procedure to compare these surveys, to apply new statistical techniques like IRT (l '"Item Response Theory"), and there's more, both as regards the formulation of test question (so-called items) both as regards the questionnaires accompanying test with which you collect essential information on the profile of the students, their tastes, their inclinations, the ways in which prefer to study. The tweaks and improvements will be so incessant repetition of these tests is certainly good at least from the point of view of methodology and knowledge.

But not only test the children and adolescents, or there is only concerned with their reading skills that are supposed to be acquired in school, rarely tested this hypothesis, because in fact, one may wonder if the company totally literate as those of ' Northern Hemisphere not learn maybe to read outside of school, for total immersion in a bath of texts, written messages, advertisements of all kinds. Perhaps, if there is intestardisse calendars of learning to read (the median age to start learning would be roughly 6 six years and the median age finally learning to read and to begin to use reading for learn would roughly to 9 years), you would learn to read in another way, with other rhythms.

So not only the most testing reading skills of children and teenagers but also adults. Some fifteen years ago, in 1994-95 they began at international level (in Sweden and the United States had already been made much earlier) investigations into the reading skills of the adult population, that is, those who no longer attend the school of 'requirement but other types of school or maybe no longer attend any school. It began with the IALS project ("International Adult Literacy Survey") then in 2003 took place always with the adult population survey ALL ("Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey") and is now in the pipeline to the survey PIACC ' OECD ("Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies"). The acronyms change, but the substance is almost the same.

What does it means Quest 'haunting Interest for Reading?
It is certainly not a coincidence that there is so much interest to the reading skills. You can not answer that question in a simplistic way arguing that reading skills are a fundamental objective of the school, a basic skill necessary to access knowledge, to learn for themselves, for the functioning of a democratic society and to create equal opportunities face education, so we need to make sure that the school do his job well and teach at least read at all and if it fails you know why to take the appropriate corrective action, or you can settle for another set of arguments that instead allows for adults as for example the fact that reading is an indispensable element of the knowledge society is a fundamental parameter of economic growth, it is essential to enter the labor market and to learn throughout the life (lifelong learning). All arguments in itself irreproachable, but "pro domo". Maybe you can suspect that there is something else at stake and you may be wondering if maybe we got into an era that has lasted fifty years (if not maybe more), marked by a crisis of reading, phenomena which is still unclear and difficult to understand the transformation of the way of reading, the value of learning to read and how to read. I limit myself to these questions and I do not forward in the world of neuroscience research where they are going, thanks to new equipment for the observation and recording of neuronal functioning in the brain, studies on learning fascinating reading.

What is Reading?
It is the extraction of certain meanings, of certain information from a text. When you read, there are many mental representations that interfere with each other and more on many levels. Reading is not a simple act. It sets in motion a wide range of strategies and involves the articulation of various operations metacognitive. Learning to read and then can not be reduced only to the acquisition of reflexes that generate connections between sounds or between vowels and syllables. However, we can assume that this is all mental gimmick, more or less regulated by the school authorities and the official culture, which is in turmoil, even in rebellion. Box Aladdin reading was opened by the new information and communications technology.

Over the last few decades it became clear that readers are autonomous and are capable of inventing unconventional uses of reading, to adapt their cognitive reactions to the contexts and the questions that they expect will address them; a reader can read a text from multiple points of view; a text can be interpreted differently depending on the previous readings. So there is only one legitimate way of reading, a right and a wrong solution. In light of these considerations verified by lots of research imposes a re-conceptualization of reading, a new theoretical framework that is no longer that of the nineteenth-century school. The obsession for reading demonstrated by the multiplication of international studies on reading comprehension perhaps serves no other purpose than to verify the reality and depth of these changes, but in itself is already a good thing to check the validity of the representation of the way read.

Reading is in Crisis?
Of course it is in crisis, but the crisis is not located where it is believed to be, that the crisis is not in the decline of reading, decrease in reading skills or expertise in the understanding of written texts, in the growth dell'illettrismo (ugly neologism now used in Italy). We do not have any investigation diachronic evolution of reading so you can not say anything sensible on reading skills and reading comprehension skills in the population, but we can assume without fear of being wrong that the number of readers has grown since in a century or two centuries ago. We also know with certainty that the school system can not properly teach reading to a whole age group, that is to read in a relatively affluent, fast, and relatively simple to understand texts. OECD and IEA surveys since 1991 have consistently confirmed that school failure; surveys IALS and ALL have in turn indicated that many adults learn to read when they are young and then unlearn with the passing years. Anyway the problem of the crisis of reading is not here with all due respect for teachers and school officials.

The history of education is a means of reading failure, then, despite the sympathy that we can try to reading books school nineteenth century, the abecedari illustrated for small (I still have mine), to changes in the methods of reading, for Homeric battles that have resulted and continue to be lively in some school systems such as in the US.

The crisis of the reading in the second half of the twentieth century is not attributed to either the extension of compulsory education or the classification of secondary education of First Instance. Divergent views on reading among primary school teachers and teachers of the school are very unpleasant but they are trifles school, messes intrinsic apparatus school (there are many others, for that matter). Nothing more.

How to Develop a Strategy to Understand Reading Simply?
In an interview on January 15 of this year to the French newspaper "Le Monde" the current director of the university library at Harvard, Robert Darnton, world-renowned specialist in the history of the book, born in New York seventy years ago, It states that the electronic book will not mark the demise of the printed book at all but on the contrary it will be salvation. This also means that the reading will always be indispensable, that does not fade, that steps must be taken to learn to read at all because without reading, as it was found for example in PISA, you can not solve either the items of the math test either of those sciences. It should be good readers to understand the mathematical and scientific problems. Of course there are exceptions, because mathematics is a language in itself, but the rule is rarely challenged (I know perfectly well that the girls read better than boys and that in tests of mathematics and science that are currently used for the resulting scores lower than males, which would seem to contradict my argument, but if you compare males with males or girls with girls thesis is confirmed).

Just to put the dots on the precise that the library of Harvard University is the first university library in the world: in 1638, when it was created, possessed four hundred books, now has 17 million, not counting 400 million manuscripts and archives of many. The book has not disappeared despite the historical events, economic developments, industrial change, technological changes.

Specialist of the 18th century, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the author of numerous studies on the 700 French, Robert Dranton former Princeton professor, a great scholar, with an extraordinary eloquence, published during the autumn last two articles of great importance on the future of the university libraries and reading in the magazine "New York Review of Books" (October 4, 2010 "A Library Without Walls" and Nov. 23 "The Library: Three Jeremiads").

Cybernetics Revolution
It goes without saying that the cyber revolution has become a fact, says Harvard professor. You can no longer backtrack. We are up to our necks. Electronic books which in 2010 accounted for 10% of book sales in the United States, will come soon to a market share of 15% or perhaps even 20%. "The electronic book will not disappear the paper book, on the contrary will save him," says a convinced Darnton. At least for a certain time. All publishers make the same finding. The more they buy and read electronic books, the higher the sales of paper books. As if to say that the appetite comes with eating. Soon they will print nearly one million new books a year. "When I hear that the book is dead, then I say: what a beautiful death." It will therefore be increasingly easy to read. The books will be available to everyone and you can browse and view at any place and at any time as is the case today. It is therefore not the time to worry or the end of the book nor the decline of reading. Certainly it reads and will read differently from a time and this is what worries the teachers. The book is no longer a rarity, is not a luxury (no longer is long since they invented the pocket). Access to books, however, will become more and more democratic thanks to cybernetics which allow use of the books different from the contemporary one. They will manufacture also different books, not only electronic but also paper. The crossing of the Rubicon for books, for the press is very close: the book of Gutenberg (as composition, as binding, format and layout) in a while, a couple of decades, it will be definitely over. The school will have to deal with this universe and it is for this reason, I believe, that in a rather clumsy we deal obsessively reading tests scholastic.

"A Library Universal for Free"
The expansion of the Internet inspires Darmond that interprets it as a chance to democratize knowledge and to create finally the republic of letters that was the dream of all the Enlightenment. "Can you imagine what a revolution will be the creation of a universal library for free?" He asks the Darnton "Monde".

Nevertheless, Darnton considers worrisome the prospect of leaving to Google, after all, a business for profit that should produce benefits for its shareholders, the initiative to burn all libraries of the world and to give Google a monopoly of access to 'information. This was the meaning of his articles published last fall in the "New York Review of Books." For this reason, the director of Harvard University has taken the initiative in the US of a colossal project of national electronic library. The specialist recognizes that the initiative is a bit 'late because she was taken to counter-attacks by private companies and was only formalized in October 2010 at a meeting of the representatives of the great American cultural institutions such as the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the main university libraries, the most important jurists of the country as well as leaders of major private foundations which have agreed to finance this huge operation. "We should have started twenty years ago; we are late but we can still do it. We should not waste time, fail this historic turning point. " If this is so even for school systems and for reading in school’s music will change soon, regardless of the results of international surveys compared. Unfortunately, in Italy, where there are deposits librarians extraordinary and numerous libraries of great value, with funds much older than those of the Harvard system, but often, alas, inaccessible except to a privileged few, no such initiative is yet in sight.
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