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Deep Reading

The pivot of our digital age is that people spend less time and pay less attention to what they are reading, remember less of what they read, and mull it over even less: it is often referred to as “shallowing”.

Dr. Wolf suggests creating a “deep reading” habit: whatever else demands our attention, 20 minutes of reading poetry, philosophy, spiritual contemplation, to clear the detritus of the day or night before, to center one’s capacities to think, to ground in one’s values. To maintain the evolution of the brain to think, ponder, understand, care. 

But what of children? How do we teach children to read AND to develop cognitive patience - sustained engagement? 

Cognitive patience isn’t a passive skill. Quite the opposite. No process takes so much effort, spontaneity, and open-mindedness. If we want this for children, we need to practice this ourselves. 

Deep Reading - The Reading Hut

Create a Reading Hut space from term 2 of Reception - deep reading is the goal. This might happen in a dedicated space shared with other classes.

While there is a place for decodable readers - especially for those most at risk because of phonemic awareness deficits and slower paced orthographic learning, the sooner children are silently reading series books the better: I only breathe that sign of relief each year when I see reception children independently reading The Village With Three Corners books and later chatting excitedly about the stories and characters to one another before they finish the year.  This may be the only time when children are able to move through a series, reading in a dedicated space, with no expectations put upon them: while there, in the moment, switching out everyone's voices and just reading is all that matters. Magical!   
Miss Emma

The Village with Three Corners Club

' invisible, game-changing transformation links everyone in this picture: the neuronal circuit that underlies the brain’s ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing - a change with implications for everyone from the pre-reading toddler to the expert adult.

As work in neurosciences indicates, the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. That circuit evolved from a very simple mechanism for decoding basic information, like the number of goats in one’s herd, to the present, highly elaborated reading brain. My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight. Research surfacing in many parts of the world now cautions that each of these essential “deep reading” processes may be under threat as we move into digital-based modes of reading.


Multiple studies show that digital screen use may be causing a variety of troubling downstream effects on reading comprehension in older high school and college students. In Stavanger, Norway, psychologist Anne Mangen and her colleagues studied how high school students comprehend the same material in different mediums. Mangen’s group asked subjects questions about a short story whose plot had universal student appeal (a lust-filled, love story); half of the students read Jenny, Mon Amour on a Kindle, the other half in paperback. Results indicated that students who read on print were superior in their comprehension to screen-reading peers, particularly in their ability to sequence detail and reconstruct the plot in chronological order.

Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader's own.

 Research from psychology has demonstrated that on average, individuals’ minds wander once every 30 seconds making time-on-task and focused attention a critical resource for classroom learning and education. Now, more than ever, there is a call for new approaches to improve teaching and learning and to respond to the “distracted” society in which we live. 

"It wasn't until I started reading and found books they wouldn't let us read in school that I discovered you could be insane and happy and have a good life without being like everybody else." – John Waters

How many children never experience 'deep reading' because they haven't found books they connect with?
Learning to read quickly and easily, and getting emotionally invested in a series eg The Village With Three Corners, means that we are not only teaching children to read, but guiding them to become readers.
Only readers experience deep reading. Not enough children become readers in the UK - because of the way they are taught to read: we need a bold plan for education reform.

 "Have books ‘happened’ to you? Unless your answer to that question is ‘yes,’ I’m unsure how to talk to you."
– Haruki Murakami

Reading on a Hammock

Deep reading falls within the broader scope of contemplative practices. It is the slowed, thoughtful, and intentional reading of material with reflection on how it relates to the self and broader communities. Through the practice of deep reading, several foundational skills for developing as a learner and a productive member of society are developed. 

"Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author's words reverberating in your head." – Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies

The term 'cognitive patience' was recently coined by Maryanne Wolf

Cognitive patience is related to our ability to wait or delay gratification. It’s our ability to calmly process information, a situation, or an event, push away distractions and focus on a specific goal without any rush. With cognitive patience learners know how to properly use one of our most important skills as humans: attention. Attention requires patience and give us more control over ourselves no matter the circumstances.

Cognitive patience is an essential skill for those teaching children to read. It involves re-learning how to look at the world through a child’s eyes: their fascination, curiosity, and instinctive appreciation of details and nuance. Teachers needs to be highly critical, taking on a scientific worldview. This doesn't mean accepting what is shared or demanded of you by those claiming to understand 'the Science of Reading' - if teaching reading let yourself be guided by a desire for knowledge and your quest or the truth about what you hear, see and read.  

I recommend Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World Paperback – 30 Aug. 2019

by Maryanne Wolf (Author)

Wolf raises difficult questions, including:

Will children learn to incorporate the full range of "deep reading" processes that are at the core of the expert reading brain? Will the mix of a seemingly infinite set of distractions for children's attention and their quick access to immediate, voluminous information alter their ability to think for themselves? With information at their fingertips, will the next generation learn to build their own storehouse of knowledge, which could impede the ability to make analogies and draw inferences from what they know? Will all these influences change the formation in children and the use in adults of "slower" cognitive processes like critical thinking, personal reflection, imagination, and empathy that comprise deep reading and that influence both how we think and how we live our lives? How can we preserve deep reading processes in future iterations of the reading brain?

Concerns about attention span, critical reasoning, and over-reliance on technology are never just about children--Wolf herself has found that, though she is a reading expert, her ability to read deeply has been impacted as she has become increasingly dependent on screens.

Wolf draws on neuroscience, literature, education, and philosophy and blends historical, literary, and scientific facts with down-to-earth examples and warm anecdotes to illuminate complex ideas that culminate in a proposal for a biliterate reading brain. Provocative and intriguing, Reader, Come Home is a roadmap that provides a cautionary but hopeful perspective on the impact of technology on our brains and our most essential intellectual capacities--and what this could mean for our future.

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