As I was preparing to teach a new co-requisite class for developmental students taking an introductory composition course, I realized that I would need to start teaching reading in addition to composition, and this was something I thought that I had never done before. Fortunately, I was able to turn to Naomi S. Baron’s How We Read Now (Oxford University Press, 2021) for reassurance and inspiration. As a research geek, I enjoyed Baron’s summary of current research on reading. As a professor dedicated to student success, I am grateful that I am better in the classroom because of her work.
My primary interest in pursuing professional development is practical classroom application of the material. And I want to know that the practices are built on solid academic studies. But first, it is necessary to be comfortable with the terminology. I am not trained as a professor of reading. Therefore, I particularly appreciated Baron’s list of seven reading terms/strategies. The clarity of her list, which she refers to as a cornucopia or reading types, is invaluable because it provides the reader with a precise vocabulary to serve as a framework for discussing what we sorta kinda know but have trouble talking about: that people read differently in different situations.
To develop the framework on which she will build, Baron asks and answers a series of rhetorical questions such as “What is reading?”, “What are we measuring?”, and “Do traditional strategies really work?”. While answering these questions, Baron recognizes that terminology is important and clearly defines terms and concepts as she introduces them. In a discussion of multiple documents, she explains that “these days, when many researches talk about ‘reading online’ or ‘digital reading,’ they specifically mean ‘reading multiple documents online.’ That is, they are referring to searching for documents, judging their veracity, and synthesizing findings across texts.” Such clarity avoids confusion, allowing pedagogical implications to be applied properly. For example, I am sure that I am not the only one who might misinterpret “online reading” as used in this section of the book to mean the type of reading my history students do when I assign a primary source text for them to consult online. Strategies for that type of reading are discussed elsewhere.
Although she uses some anecdotal evidence, Baron builds How We Read Now on a solid foundation of research. The titles for three of the ten chapters begin “What Research Tells Us…” In addition, subtopics such as “Reading by Choice: What the Numbers Say” provide summaries of multiples academic studies conveyed in a way that are easily accessible. Statistics, findings, methodology, and even limitations of the research are clear and concise. I chose to consult many of the studies Baron cited, but I did so because doing so was part of a larger research agenda and not because I found her summaries lacking. My additional research confirmed that they were not.
I might be a research geek, but when I read books like How We Read Now, I am most interested in practical applications for my own pedagogy. How can I use the material next semester—if not next week? I was not in the classroom while reading Baron’s book last summer, but I almost immediately began incorporating it into a history course I was revising for the Fall 2021 semester. I emphasize history because Baron provides us with guidance in how to incorporate reading across the curriculum. Teaching a co-requisite English composition class is what brought me to Baron, but it was my history students who received the initial benefits.
First, Baron showed me how I was already teaching reading when I required students to annotate or using various brainstorming strategies. As I read, I kept realizing that I do what she described and that I already had something else in my course design. Because of this realization, I am able to take the step of doing what I am already doing better and more mindfully. In doing so, I can be more explicit with students about reading strategies that can help them improve their work in history, other disciplines, and in their lives. Additionally, I can cite Baron as well as the research that she cites throughout her book. Although Baron does not provide many specific small teaching practices, it is easy to apply her lessons to the classroom.
For example, inspired by sections of How We Read Now,
- I discuss Baron’s cornucopia with students and explicitly tell them which strategy to use to read assignments.
- I explain why reading an OER textbook and online materials is not always a good thing when it comes to learning the material and how they can overcome the potential problems
- I ask them to do an exercise concerning cell phones and distraction
- I incorporate Baron when I teach a lesson on how “to determine the validity of competing claims to truth”
In How We Read Now, Baron provides insight into current reading practices that are rooted in research while delivering practical ideas we can incorporate into our classrooms. It is an idea book for those of us who are not reading specialists to improve our pedagogical practices. Although I had not considered the importance of reading across the curriculum until last summer when I was reading Baron, maybe we should?
Steven L. Berg is a Professor of English and History at Schoolcraft College. He is President of the Michigan Chapter of the National Organization for Student Success (NOSSMi). His current research focuses on the pedagogy of compassion. You can follow Berg’s blog at By the Speaking of This Truth or contact him at sberg *at* schoolcraft.edu.