News 2011: UMass Dartmouth professors urge return to traditional reading to excite students about learning

News 2011: UMass Dartmouth professors urge return to traditional reading to excite students about learning
UMass Dartmouth professors urge return to traditional reading to excite students about learning

New book argues that online culture damages students' ability to achieve understanding, wisdom, and judgment

UMass Dartmouth professors Robert Waxler and Maureen Hall are making the case that the growing infatuation with online communication and movement away from traditional reading is damaging students' ability to learn.

In Transforming Literacy: Changing Lives Through Reading and Writing, Waxler, (an English professor) and Hall (A Fulbright Scholar in education) assert the value and relevance of reading, especially of great novels and poetry, in the education of citizens for the 21st century. Of particular interest is their discussion of recent research suggesting the damage that may be done to students' neural circuitry in moving away from a traditional reading culture to an online one.

In the view of Waxler and Hall, the classroom is the best place to reinvigorate the quest for what it means to be truly human, through a focus on language and literature, intelligent and passionate discussion, story and self-reflection. Through a number of examples, they show how literature can excite the imagination and stir the human heart to the activity of learning and the adventure of education that involves a continual quest to, in the words of Socrates, "know thyself."

"There is a long and progressive tradition in education that needs to be rejuvenated,'' Dr. Waxler said. "That tradition is rooted in the belief that the goal of education is to create a compassionate community of concerned human beings, a democracy that celebrates wisdom over smartness, the depth of understanding and the patience of critical judgment over the cleverness of manipulation and the speed of production for quick results. It is a tradition grounded in the belief that human beings have an innate desire to learn and, when given the chance, they want to create meaning for themselves and for those around them."

The authors' starting point is the Transforming Lives Through Literacy program which Waxler created for working with prisoners and which he and Hall adapted for educating at-risk youth and future teachers. The successes of this program point to the value of reading, discussing, and writing about great literature as a way to help people develop empathy for others as they also gain perspectives on their own behavior and a sense of alternatives in life.

Waxler and Hall show how literature can provide a focus for creating a "new neighborhood" in the classroom emphasizing fresh ways of seeing and thinking that can literally change lives. They demonstrate how involving students in such a new neighborhood of possibilities, created within the safe space of a class reading group, can play a major role in building a sense of community and empowerment that is the foundation for participatory democracy.

Waxler and Hall build their case through a review of their own research as well as other relevant literacy research that supports the importance of "deep reading" and reading-related discussion and writing to a 21st century education.

Transforming Literacy is published as Volume 3 of the Innovation and Leadership in English Language Teaching series published by Emerald Group Publishing. It is available from all usual book retailers, as well as the Emerald Bookstore:

For review copies or for more information on Transforming Literacy, contact Chris Hart, Commissioning Editor,