Learning Through Words: Some Thoughts from “The Art of Slow Reading” by Thomas Newkirk (Heinemann, 2012)

imgresI have been reading an excellent resource lately. It is titled The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement by Thomas Newkirk. He was a college professor, former urban high school teacher, and now the lead editor for Heinemann.

Newkirk believes that education moves way too fast, with the advent of technology plus all the standards and academic expectations set upon us. Classrooms should slow down and be more mindful about what students are learning right now. He speaks about strategies he has found that helps with student engagement and slow reading (p 42-43):

  • Performing (attending to the texts as dramatic, as enacted for an audience, even internally)
  • Memorizing (learning by “heart”)
  • Centering (assigning significance to a part of text)
  • Problem finding (interrupting the flow of reading to note a problem or confusion)
  • Reading like a writer (attending to the decisions a writer makes)
  • Elaborating (developing the capacity to comment and expand on texts)

One of the most surprising quotes for me addresses the importance of committing words to memory. On page 77, Newkirk believes that memorizing a piece of text “isn’t rote learning. It is claiming a heritage. It is the act of owning language, making it literally a part of our bodies, to be called upon decades later when it fits a situation.”

Memorable phrases, such as principles and analogies, make the abstract more concrete. Consider the following precept, discovered in Wonder by R.J. Palacio:

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Isn’t this so much more accessible for people, young or old, instead of “Make better choices”? Dyer’s words seem worth owning. The phrasing and word choice also help to make the precept memorable. It is language that I am committing to memory.

As you and your students explore excellent literature together this year, in what works will you all find phrases and principles to live through, share, and discuss? How might this slow down learning and deepen engagement in your classrooms? I am excited to find out – please share in the comments.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

8 thoughts on “Learning Through Words: Some Thoughts from “The Art of Slow Reading” by Thomas Newkirk (Heinemann, 2012)”

  1. Interesting. I love finding quotes, like the one from Wayne Dyer, or lines of poetry to commit to memory; and I agree that in learning the words their meaning and the language become a part of us. At the moment I am reading “I Teach: The Journey of a Teacher” (was it one of your recommendations? I was just about to check.) A quote from that I particularly like is “When you get to the heart of it, teaching is hope for the future.”
    While I may agree with some of Newkirk’s points that you have listed, I disagree that education moves too fast. If he means it pushes students through too much content too quickly, then yes, I agree. But the education system does not move quickly enough. Too many policies are still being made for a bygone era. That’s not to say that individual teachers, principals and schools are not doing good things, but if they are it’s probably because of who they are and in spite of systemic policies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Norah for commenting. I think the point Newkirk was trying to make is that education cannot keep up with the advances with technology, and instead of just trying to keep up, educators might be wise to slow down and dig more deeply into the rich content right in front of us, digital or otherwise. It’s an issue with unpacking and debating. Thanks again Norah for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s true. If we just rush in to what’s new without delving into the worth we may do nothing more than skim the surface, and there’s never much on the surface of a diluted anything! Thanks for putting me straight. I read about Newkirk and his book on another blog yesterday also, and have added it to my TBR pile (a couple of others to finish first). I’ll be interested to read it in his own words. Thanks for enlightening me. 🙂


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