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Reading is not a race: The virtues of the ‘slow reading’ movement

Go to just about any elementary school in this country and you will see teachers with stopwatches assessing “nonsense word fluency,” says Thomas Newkirk, a former high school teacher and currently professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, for the Washington Post. When I first heard the term, I though someone was pulling my leg. Fluency in reading, I had always thought, was about meaning, about understanding. It had nothing to do with nonsense. But children are tested regularly in 60-second bursts on meaningless letter combinations—often pushed to go faster than one per second. Fluency equates to speed. I understand the importance of decoding skill, and I’m sure that some kids—the sprinters—might like this form of racing. But I wonder what image of reading we are passing on, and how the stragglers feel…

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