The Demise of Reading? A Meta-analysis of Reading Studies

By Alice Horning.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

It is a commonplace now in the American media to see reports on the decline of reading skills as a result of a number of recent studies. Among the most recent are the National Endowment for the Arts report called To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence and the first of a series of articles beginning July 28, 2008 in the New York Times on the future of reading called “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” In addition, though, there are major US studies of reading ability in the population at large commissioned by Congress and conducted by the Department of Education, a similar international study of literacy in the nations of the developed world, one on the reading abilities of college students, among others. Virtually all of these studies report the same basic finding: adult reading skills are in decline. The consistency of the findings warrants more careful study for at least three key reasons. First, there are methodological differences such that each study has some key weaknesses and the studies differ from one another in terms of whether they entail self-report data, direct tests of reading performance, verbal protocol analysis or some other strategy. Second, the ways in which the studies either consider or fail to attend to sociolinguistic factors such as age, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status may affect the results reported. Finally, these studies look at different kinds of reading of different kinds of materials, and reading is not all the same. For all these reasons, then, a meta-analysis of recent research on reading is in order. A thorough meta-analysis of recent studies, then, fully explains the nature of the decline in adult reading abilities and suggests strategies for improving adult reading abilities.

Keywords: Reading, Literacy, Meta-analysis, Sociolinguistics

International Journal of the Book, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp.17-24. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 539.904KB).

Dr. Alice Horning

Professor of Rhetoric and Linguistics, Department of Writing and Rhetoric, Department of Linguistics, Oakland University, Rochester, MI, USA

I hold a joint appointment in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric and the Department of Linguistics at my university; as a result, I teach courses in reading and writing or critical literacy as well as theory courses on psycholinguistics, language acquisition and related topics. Although I hold a Ph.D. in English, my areas of study and research are cross-disciplinary in nature, including linguistics, psychology, rhetoric and composition studies and reading. The central question that is the focus of my work is this: how is it possible for human beings to be literate creatures?


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