What is the point of reading…?
…not the place as that is a heteronym, making sure not to offend any residents. Why do we read?
Learning the mechanics of reading
I wasn’t assessed as dyslexic until I was in the second year of my BA Hon’s. I didn’t really read much till then; I would read the odd graphic novel, but become more interested in copying the pictures of Tank Girl and Joe Pineapples (graphic novel fans will know these characters), eventually stop reading the story and start drawing the characters.
With hindsight being taught to read at school never involved being asked questions to find out how much comprehension I obtained from what I read. Whether we read a novel, article, signpost, invoice or receipt, we do it for understanding. For many including myself, learning to read as a child was about reading out loud. This was really to enable teachers to make sure that sounding out words and pausing in the correct places, is done correctly. This was done for the sake of their understanding, with the intention of assessing my mastery of the mechanics of reading.
Analogically, the reading process I was using after being taught in the above way could be compared to a Piano Roll (allowing a piano to mechanically play music through perforations on paper). With this in mind, the interpretation of music from a Piano Roll, e.g. a Bach sonata, would lack the cerebral and emotional interpretation that a classical pianist would give: due to a greater familiarity and understanding of the notation, the composer and human expression.
Essentially, what I believe I was doing, was just “sounding out”. This is the equivalent of what a Piano Roll would be doing with the perforated notation: producing sounds that relate to the symbols in front of me. For a teacher this would be the act of reading out loud; however, with my dyslexic mind, this was done successfully without making a real connection to what the collective meaning of the sounds were. Nonetheless, it would give my teachers the satisfaction that I understood the basic mechanics of the notation; what symbols related to what sound, for the purpose of being assessed for that particular literacy level.
Not Reading the signs
I became good at using using the Piano Roll process, to the extent that I was always chosen to do long verbal performances for primary school parent and teacher events. This involved a lot of practice, so I could have whatever text’s sound oral shape chiseled into my long-term memory. I remember performing the pieces and an audience laughing at jokes that were in the text; but I would be surprised at the laughter, as I had no comprehension that what I was reciting was a joke. I knew they weren’t laughing at my performance as I had perfected it in rehearsals, with teachers’ approval; retrospectively, I just didn’t understand what I was reading. Alternatively one could argue that the jokes were for an older audien
ce and that they were just go over my head, but this was the case for every time I was performing some kind of text, that I was elected to do. In a way I was a bit like a performing monkey, turning the handle but not knowing why and what for, I think I’m owed some bananas or peanuts at least. However, this monkey used this Piano Roll technique to bluff my way through school.
Reading, My Mind!
So why did I never get the meaning from what I was reading. Well this relates to the title of this post: “What is the point of Reading?” Being dyslexic as well as ADHD, one of the definitions that dyslexia and ADHD have in common is a working memory deficit. Due to this working memory deficit, sequential tasks can prove to be a bit difficult. Essentially, reading is a sequential task that relies on other skills related to the working memory: having a good visual processing and phonological processing skills. Cognition of what I or anyone else reads relies heavily a good working memory. However, this maybe due to the way that we are all taught to read.
One of the first things learned on the SuperReading™ course is to relearn how to use your finger when reading. Now this may seem basic and simple, but for me reintroducing this was profound. Ron Cole gave an example of what comes natural to us as human beings: whilst in mid-lecture, he unexpectedly threw a piece of screwed up paper across the room, we all followed the paper’s trajectory with our eyes. He pointed this out, and I thought this was interesting; as we as a group all tracked the rolled up ball of paper, like an audience in a tennis match.
As human beings we are designed to hunt for things (apologies to the vegetarians I was once vegetarian too, till I learned about the Hunter Vs. Farmer theory
1), we have binocular vision, which the majority of predatory mammals have. This helps predators get better judgement of where their prey is, essentially keeping their eyes on the prize. We have peripheral vision that helps us to notice things that are either side of us, whether it is a predator or prey. According to recent research dyslexics have better peripheral vision2, could this be a factor as to why it is difficult for a dyslexic mind to read and why words blur or move off the page. Pointing you’re your finger or a spear at prey would allow for better focus, if that meant you had to successfully hunt. Hunting is more of natural activity to humans than reading is. With the Australian aborigines in mind, a society that hunts (or hunted in some cases), there is less of a need to read and write to survive.
What is Natural
One morning whilst I was on the course I was having breakfast with my family. My son to at the time was around nine months old pointed at an apple that he wanted to eat. I recognised, that neither my wife nor I had ever taught him how to point at something; it was something that he did instinctively and innate. The act of pointing at something outside of ones self is an expression of cognition, inborn in the majority of all human beings. In the many cultures we are socialised out of pointing; we are told as children, that it is rude to point. Paradoxically, when learning to read with the intention of mastering this mechanical process, we are told to use our finger; but without good reason we are eventually told that there is “no need to point”. In doing this I feel, teachers are literally “Missing the Point”.
1 Thom Hartmann and John J Ratey, ADD success stories : a guide to fulfillment for families with Attention Deficit Disorder : maps, guidebooks, and travelogues for hunters in this farmer’s world (Grass Valley, Calif.: Underwood Books, 1995).