A presentation at Encyclo-Media 2006, Oklahoma City, OK
31 August 2006

Dr Stephen Krashen (Professor Emeritus)
University of Southern California

“I am 65 years old, but I read at the 72 year old level”

A little more perspective in analyzing US literacy trends is important
look at the 1945 reading status
There really IS a lot of reading going on now

There is a problem, but it is a different problem

Teenagers like to read
looking at survey results of FVR (free voluntary reading)
we think the result of all these polls might be an underestimate, because there is a lot of reading they do that they don’t count (so it is at least 85%
we wanted to know if kids were really reading during SSR (question was if it was ‘sustained silent page turning’)
study looked at SSR, but NOT the first week (in the middle of the year)
about 90% of the kids were reading, but there was variation
also did a study of the factors that got kids into reading (you get less reading when teachers don’t provide books, when teacher require books, when teachers read you get more reading, when teachers enthusiastically endorse / share about books that they like)
Given access to books, people read them
Harry Potter: given good books, kids will read!

More evidence that teenagers are reading
I subscribe to the Gallup Poll for $95 per year
everyone uses a different question
PEW report a few years ago, about one third of teenagers
kids are reading as much as others are, there is NO decline
one-third of teenagers said they read part of a book

1971 report from Univ of Minnesota
asked kids going back to 1971, what do you do in your leisure time
mean for book reading has stayed consistent, it was always around 2.2 and 2.3 (college students are still doing free voluntary reading)

Kids said they did more reading that TV
surfing the internet has increased dramatically and now beats out reading
we will touch on this more later

Kids are reading as much as they did 30 years ago

Problem with “Reading at Risk” report
their definition of reading is “reading a book”
obviously there are other types of reading
all other types of reading have increased dramatically over the past several decades
comic books and graphic novel reading have REALLY increased
graphic novels have been called comic books on steroids
there are some great things in graphic novels
recommendations: “The Watchman” came out about 15 years ago, very interesting and even challenging, very rewarding
another: “Batman Returns” came out about 20 years ago, just as Spiderman started renaissance of comic books, “Batman Returns” really caused focus on graphic novels
Superman is more on the political right, Batman is more on the left
I’ve been reading “Sin City” in graphic novel form, it is very violent and full explicit scenes (not for kids)
sales of graphic novels are in the millions, they have gone up spectacularly

The Internet
has grown phenomenally in the past decades
access up
nearly 80% of teenagers use Internet now
Internet users READ! 27% read blogs, increase in 10% in just a few months

you have to count magazines!
Magazines are the ultimate high-interest reading sources
demanding reading like Atlantic Monthly
Also hobby magazines
Middle school study about 15 years go, gave students who were given magazine subscriptions

Poetry counts
reading at risk only counts poetry if it is written down in a book and is nearly incomprehensible
another type of poetry: lyrics
lyrics to songs are often profound
this is the only place I see there has been a decline: I still like the lyrics of the 1940s and 1950s

Books on tape don’t really fit, but read-alouds do have
these are NEW, they weren’t in the old surveys
we all use them in the car
9.3% of respondents said they listen to books on tape, this stat alone makes up for
most of the fiction I consume are via books on tape
this now allows people in the population to be reached
they have specially designed books on tape for truckers, they are all “manly”
this is a big, booming industry
this is another good example of how literacy, broadly defined in the US, is definitely expanding

New stuff on the Internet
I am frankly not a big fan of computers and literacy
I will discuss this more tomorrow, they have been
Journal of Developmental Psychology, looking at low income children, Michigan study, provided kids with access to the Internet (researcher was from the univ of Michigan)
only 11% used the computer for school and homework
games: 34%
surfing the web: 33%
the more the kids surfed the net, the higher their reading scores
Internet reading meant higher scores and grades
it was NOT the case that
Internet use predicted reading, not on math tests– on reading tests
that means that reading on the net helped test scores

Another study: found that the more (teenagers in Holland) students used the Internet, the more

I think the internet itself gives more literacy
kids are now making blogs, talking to each other, reading
the internet itself means more FVR
the internet itself and its use improves
this is not an ad for software! We are talking about surfing and reading

There is a HUGE digital divide
growth curves show that the poor people in the US are not catching up
the internet contributes directly to literacy and reading

National Endowment for the Arts: 2 reports, one was “Reading at Risk”
other was a general survey of the arts in the US (“Public Participation in the Arts”)
I don’t think the writers of each report read what the others
they found there has been now change since 1982 in the vigor of intellectual life in the United States
creative writing has stayed the same

this is stunning intellectual activity, this is startling, and the Intern

we know that writing makes a profound contribution to intellectual development (writing literally makes you smarter)
I can’t think of another place that
4% of entire population of the US have written something on the Internet
12% have commented
this is STUNNING intellectual development

I could speculate on the political motivations of some of those writing these reports

Real problem: there is no mention of the real problem
there is a real one
problem: So few kids have access to books!
For the children we deal with, so few have access to books at home, in their community, live in areas with little access
Given access to books: people read– that is what this research says to me

National reading campaigns like Michael Jordan reading, saying “read”
kind of like telling starving people: you should eat more! Eating is good for you!
We have a misperception and theory that children are lazy and evil
this turns out to NOT be true
there is no literacy crisis, except that poor children have little access to books

only constraint on questions: the first one has to be friendly

Internet usage with elementary students
“I have given you all the data I know about, I am a prisoner of the research”
my gut: if it allows students to pursue their interests, the potential is there as long as the content is captivating, motivating, and doesn’t have an overt pedagogic purpose (that seems to guarantee it won’t work)

The number of cases where kids are sent to special education, a large percentage are kids of poverty
a lot of that “being behind” results from those kids not having access to print
first step for helping these kids is NOT to stop their access to content and materials that other students have
direct instruction and drill is often what we resort to with “special education” kids
often the developmental path is the same but just slower

So many of our problems in education are due to arbitrary time restrictions

grade level standards are arbitrary (this does not come from the OT, NT, Koran or NFL handbook)
these were made up basically by the Prussians in the 1820s
the irony is: the harder we work to ensure that kids are on time and don’t fall behind, the

If you have one eye on your goal, you will only have one eye for your work

Only way to become literate is to become engaged and absorbed in very interesting books
refer to “Flow”
you can’t speed that up
if you speed up, you will lose the meaning
leisure reading is the only way
To be absorbed in interesting problems: that is the ONLY way to become smarter

Smart scientists get very involved in problem solving, they know how to relax, they also know that incubation is a critical element

We do the EXACT OPPOSITE in our schools often
the often in many cases: make sure there is a relaxed, print-rich environment where kids can get lost in books and excited about ideas


Teachers seem to favor the audio-lingual method because we are all products of it

question: does formal instruction ever work and help?
in case of Spanish: some background with the language
in terms of acquisition: there is massive documentation that when grammar study and real communication is compared, audio-lingual loses every time

If we look at people who have done well with language
they have had comprehensible input versus grammar
CI grammar
+ + OK
+ – OK
– + BAD

case of Schlieman
his auto-biography
went to 2 church sermons in English per week
he read and memorized verbatim Ivanhoe and “The Thinker of Wakefield”
he said if he read something 3 times he had it
so you see in this story he wasn’t just doing grammar study: there was comprehensible input

My prediction is that if you find someone who says they did it through grammar, they

Does grammar study have some value: a little bit
is helpful in limited contexts for editing
but pushed too hard it can ruin everything

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, subscribe to Wes' free newsletter. Check out Wes' video tutorial library, "Playing with Media." Information about more ways to learn with Dr. Wesley Fryer are available on wesfryer.com/after.

On this day..

Share →

2 Responses to More from Stephen Krashen on America’s fabricated literacy crisis

  1. Doug Noon says:

    This is great stuff. Stephen Krashen is a person to listen to carefully and, as you indicate here, he has a lot to say. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Marco Polo says:

    That’s probably The VICAR of Wakefield. And I’ve heard/read that Lenin learned English in jail by using multi-lingual versions of the New Testament. Don’t know if it’s true, tho. Thanks for posting this. Fascinating stuff.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Sharing from Matthews, North Carolina! Connect with Wes on Mastodon.