March 24, 2017

Sound advice. For many Americans, though, it’s not that simple. Credit: Kevin Dooley / Flickr Creative Commons

About 40 percent of the country - or 93 million U.S. adults - read at basic or below basic levels, according to a 2003 study. They struggle with tasks like managing their health care or helping their children with homework assignments. The statistic surprised Mark Seidenberg, a professor of psychology and cognitive neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and author of the book Language at the Speed of Sight, in part because it includes people from many different economic backgrounds. 

And, while reading ability has improved over the years, progress has been slow. Part of the problem, Seidenberg says, has to do with a disconnect between reading science and education, a divide that has so far proven difficult to bridge.

Three Takeaways:

  • If you want to compare reading skills in America with those in other countries, Seidenberg says, “We have fewer people at the high-end and more people at the low-end” of the spectrum.
  • Although adults reading at basic or below levels aren’t illiterate, they don’t read much beyond simple texts and likely won’t seek out more complicated books or documents, Seidenberg explains.
  • Speaking to children is one of the best ways to cultivate their reading ability. “The range of things children hear spoken to them, the vocabulary that they hear and the different uses that they hear just in speaking is really crucial to spoken language development, and that is a huge factor in becoming a reader,” Seidenberg says.

More Reading:

Education, Mark Seidenberg, Kara Miller, reading

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