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Impact of Silent Reading

Interview about the impact of silent reading on education:



In the interview, Greg Turko points out that silent reading changed education by making it possible to learn on one’s own and that education became more analytical and not just rote memorization.  Saenger (1997) posits “the general adoption of canonically separated writing transformed authorship and writing practices, university pedagogy, and the nature and uses of libraries” (Saenger, 1997, p. 256). Silent reading allowed for better engagement with the text and writing could now be personal as the scribe could also be the author.  This led to more critical thinking and to freedom of thought and ultimately an intellectual explosion of ideas (Saenger, 1997; Lyons, 2010).  Copying of texts had been a matter of dictating it to a scribe (Saenger, 1997) but once text could be read silently and the scribes moved to visual copying of the text, the scriptorium became a silent place. Libraries changed as well and became quiet places that gave students access to their texts if they could not afford to buy them (Lyons, 2010). Students were expected to borrow their textbooks and read along in lectures to increase comprehension of the lectures thereby changing education in a fundamental way.

Despite the advent of silent reading, reading and writing were still skills restricted to the privileged few as the majority of the population remained illiterate. Therefore, oral and silent reading coexisted (Lyons, 2010) for centuries.  Jajdelska (2007) points out that there were many levels of literacy and reading out loud to others was a valued part of societies at home and even in the workplace.  The transition from reading out loud to silent reading introduced a change in the relationship to the text.  She identifies a different orientation in the two modes of reading:   “reader as speaker” and “reader as hearer”.  When the reader is the speaker, the writer relies on the reader to interpret the text for the listeners.  When the reader is the hearer (as in silent reading), the writer has to create a narrator to serve that same interpretative role.  This eventually led to a change in writing styles.  But, it was not until the late 17th century and early 18th century that there were enough silent readers for writers to create and embrace a whole new style of writing that led to the growth of the novel and other genres of writing (Jajdelska, 2007).  The focus on oral reading in the past gradually changed to more focus on the importance of silent reading (Gray, 1924) and has led to sustained reading programs in many education systems today as the value of silent reading is generally recognized as a skill for increased comprehension of a text.





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