After reading the handout on developing deep and critical reading skills and Maryanne Wolf’s article “Skim Reading Is the New Normal,” describe what types of material you skim-read and some experiences with reading deeply and critically. Give examples of types of material you anticipate reading in college and which approaches you think would be useful for reading them. Length: 250-300 words (2-4 paragraphs).


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Developing Deep Reading and Critical Reading Skills
EN 112.03, Winter 2019
To be successful in college, you will need deep reading and critical reading skills in addition to
skim reading skills. As Maryanne Wolf in her article “Skim Reading Is the New Normal. The Effect on
Society Is Profound” (2018) points out, our everyday online reading—social media posts, short news
articles, etc.—promotes our development of skim reading skills but often does not support the
development of deep reading or critical reading skills. One of the goals of EN 112 is to help you develop
those skills.
Our textbook, Reading the World: Ideas That Matter (Austin, 2017) (referred to here as “RTW”), is filled
with essays from some of the top thinkers throughout history and from all over the world, from ancient
China to modern-day Kenya, India, and America. Reading these essays will give you much food for
thought and will broaden your horizons. They will also help you hone your deep reading and critical
reading skills.
Deep reading involves eliminating distractions and focusing on and immersing yourself in a reading.
Through reading deeply, we come to identify and understand the complex levels of thought the author is
expressing, and we connect the ideas with what we already know in order to generate new knowledge for
ourselves. Deep reading facilitates learning in the hard sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities,
and all other academic subjects.
If the reading portrays human experience, as the essays in RTW do, through deep reading, we can
connect with and develop empathy for the people involved and better understand their points of view. We
discover how people from different cultural groups may have had extremely different experiences from
the ones we have had, and we come to better understand why their resulting worldviews may differ from
ours. Indeed, we may better understand ourselves and our experiences and worldview as well.
Critical reading incorporates deep reading while also including critical thinking/analysis. What is the
historical context in which the author writes? What claims is the author making? What personal and
cultural assumptions are embedded in those claims? How is the author justifying those claims? (Claims +
evidence = argument, as Michael Austin explains in Chapter 12 of RTW.) In what ways do you agree,
partially agree, or disagree with those claims? Why? Does the author’s argument reinforce what you
already believe is true? How? Does it make you reconsider your beliefs and even change them? How?
Do you discover implications in what the author is saying that may go even beyond what the author could
have been aware of at the time?
In Chapter 9 of RTW, “Reading Ideas,” you will be learning some great tips from Michael Austin for
increasing your reading effectiveness. In addition, after reading each assigned RTW essay, you will be
writing a reflective forum post responding to particular questions about the essay, which will help you
further develop your deep and critical reading skills.
Austin, M. (Ed.). (2017). Reading the world: Ideas that matter (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Norton.
Wolf, M. (2018, August 25). Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound. The
Guardian. Retrieved from
K. M. Goodyear
Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound | Maryanne Wolf | Opinion | The Guardian
Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on
society is profound
Maryanne Wolf
When the reading brain skims texts, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand
another’s feelings or to perceive beauty. We need a new literacy for the digital age
The best of 2018: we’re resurfacing some of our top stories of the past year
Sat 25 Aug 2018 14.41 BST
ook around on your next plane trip. The iPad is the new pacifier for babies and toddlers.
Younger school-aged children read stories on smartphones; older boys don’t read at all,
but hunch over video games. Parents and other passengers read on Kindles or skim a
flotilla of email and news feeds. Unbeknownst to most of us, an 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.
Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound | Maryanne Wolf | Opinion | The Guardian
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 digitalbased modes of reading.
There’s an old rule in neuroscience that does not alter with age: use
it or lose it Photograph: Sjale/Getty Images/iStockphoto
This is not a simple, binary issue of print vs digital reading and technological innovation. As MIT
scholar Sherry Turkle has written, we do not err as a society when we innovate, but when we
ignore what we disrupt or diminish while innovating. In this hinge moment between print and
digital cultures, society needs to confront what is diminishing in the expert reading circuit, what
our children and older students are not developing, and what we can do about it.
We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic
blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that
environment’s requirements – from different writing systems to the characteristics of whatever
medium is used. If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented
and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the
reading circuit. As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention
and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference,
critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age.
Increasing reports from educators and from researchers in psychology and the humanities bear
this out. English literature scholar and teacher Mark Edmundson describes how many college
students actively avoid the classic literature of the 19th and 20th centuries because they no longer
have the patience to read longer, denser, more difficult texts. We should be less concerned with
students’ “cognitive impatience,” however, than by what may underlie it: the potential inability of
large numbers of students to read with a level of critical analysis sufficient to comprehend the
complexity of thought and argument found in more demanding texts, whether in literature and
science in college, or in wills, contracts and the deliberately confusing public referendum
questions citizens encounter in the voting booth.
Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound | Maryanne Wolf | Opinion | The Guardian
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 wordspot 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.
‘Multiple studies show that digital screen use may be causing a
variety of troubling downstream effects on reading.’ Photograph:
Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61
Karin Littau and Andrew Piper have noted another dimension: physicality. Piper, Littau and Anne
Mangen’s group emphasize that the sense of touch in print reading adds an important redundancy
to information – a kind of “geometry” to words, and a spatial “thereness” for text. As Piper notes,
human beings need a knowledge of where they are in time and space that allows them to return to
things and learn from re-examination – what he calls the “technology of recurrence”. The
importance of recurrence for both young and older readers involves the ability to go back, to
check and evaluate one’s understanding of a text. The question, then, is what happens to
comprehension when our youth skim on a screen whose lack of spatial thereness discourages
“looking back.”
US media researchers Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine, American University’s linguist Naomi
Baron, and cognitive scientist Tami Katzir from Haifa University have examined the effects of
different information mediums, particularly on the young. Katzir’s research has found that the
negative effects of screen reading can appear as early as fourth and fifth grade – with implications
not only for comprehension, but also on the growth of empathy.
The possibility that critical analysis, empathy and other deep reading processes could become the
unintended “collateral damage” of our digital culture is not a simple binary issue about print vs
digital reading. It is about how we all have begun to read on any medium and how that changes
Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound | Maryanne Wolf | Opinion | The Guardian
not only what we read, but also the purposes for why we read. Nor is it only about the young. The
subtle atrophy of critical analysis and empathy affects us all. It affects our ability to navigate a
constant bombardment of information. It incentivizes a retreat to the most familiar silos of
unchecked information, which require and receive no analysis, leaving us susceptible to false
information and demagoguery.
There’s an old rule in neuroscience that does not alter with age: use it or lose it. It is a very
hopeful principle when applied to critical thought in the reading brain because it implies choice.
The story of the changing reading brain is hardly finished. We possess both the science and the
technology to identify and redress the changes in how we read before they become entrenched. If
we work to understand exactly what we will lose, alongside the extraordinary new capacities that
the digital world has brought us, there is as much reason for excitement as caution.
We need to cultivate a new kind of brain: a “bi-literate” reading brain capable of the deepest
forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums. A great deal hangs on it: the ability of
citizens in a vibrant democracy to try on other perspectives and discern truth; the capacity of our
children and grandchildren to appreciate and create beauty; and the ability in ourselves to go
beyond our present glut of information to reach the knowledge and wisdom necessary to sustain a
good society.
Maryanne Wolf is the Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice in
the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA

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