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Language at the Speed of Sight
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Language at the Speed of Sight

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  263 ratings  ·  49 reviews
In 2011, when an international survey reported that students in Shanghai dramatically outperformed American students in reading, math, and science, President Obama declared it a "Sputnik moment": a wake-up call about the dismal state of American education. Little has changed, however, since then: over half of our children still read at a basic level and few become highly p ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 3rd 2017 by Basic Books
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3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  263 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Jonna Higgins-Freese
Well, I bought it but wish I'd waited until the library copy came in. The book was kind of all over the place, from science to education policy to curriculum critique to everything in between. Spoiler alert: phonics are important and the way to go for instruction. Unfortunately, I've read other books on the science of reading and I already knew that. He doesn't give many specifics on which curricula do work other than "phonics." Okay, but there are a lot of different ways of teaching phonics, an ...more
Feb 19, 2017 rated it liked it
I kept feeling an irritated sort of suspense--when is he actually going to tell me something specific about the reading process and what works? Never happened. I did get a lot of background I didn't need or already knew. And I wish he hadn't been so dismissive of comprehension issues. There is a subset of kids who are hyper Lexi can, so they've clearly cracked the phonetic code but still don't necessarily know what they're reading. Some info that I found valuable on the disconnect between teache ...more
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I had a feeling I'd enjoy this book, but I was much more entertained than I expected to be. Seidenberg has a great sense of humor and wit about him. (Non-fiction books about reading can be a little dry. This one was pretty funny at times.) Plus, it was fascinating and informative. I'd put it in the same category as Maryanne Wolf's Proust and the Squid and Stanislas Dehaene's Reading in the Brain. It's that excellent.
Eric Kalenze
The latest title in an exceptionally great year or so of education reading (i.e., arguably the best-ever ED Hirsch, Michaela's 'Tiger Teachers', new K Chenoweth, Didau/Rose, Crehan's 'Cleverlands', etc., all with Boser, Ericsson, Peal, Hess, & Willingham on deck), and possibly the most important. Really saying something, considering all the high-quality stuff I've read of late.

Though 'Language at the Speed of Sight' focuses mainly on the science of reading, the few dozen pages of chapters 10
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a particularly fascinating read as someone with a child about to enter the public school system. Seidenberg overviews the history of written language, what we know about how we read, and how reading is being taught in public schools. The middle was more technical and a bit of a slog to get through, but still interesting. I most enjoyed the first third (history, what we know) and the last (what does it mean for how reading is taught in schools). Overall, well-researched and I walked away ...more
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really liked the first part of the book the best - about what reading is and how it works in our brains, especially as contrasted to listening to speech. The big chunk about dyslexia was interesting also. I didn't care as much for the sections about what is wrong with how we teach reading and how it got that way, and possible improvements. Important stuff, and I'm confident he's on the right track - but I guess I'm more interested in the how-it-works stuff as opposed to the social policy stuff.
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: stopped-reading
Perhaps linguists would find this book more interesting than I did. Unwilling to wade through lots of technical jargon, I learned nothing about what neuroscience tells us about how to teach children to read. Seidenberg thinks that teachers should take courses in linguistics, although I don't really understand why. He thinks that poverty plays a big role in why some children don't learn to read, but it's not the only factor. He doesn't say what can be done to overcome the deficits caused by pover ...more
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was really hard to get through. Not because the writing was bad, but because there is so much good science here and it was hard to make sure I was understanding all of the implications. I found myself reading and rereading passages to make sure I got all of it. The basic gist is this--brain science says good readers learn by phonics. Which was phased out when I was a kid. And this is why we have reading problems in our country. This all makes sense if you look at studies of stroke patients, ...more
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: professional
Chapter 11 is a MUST READ for anyone who teaches reading. There is a persistence in the field of some educational strategies (i.e. 3 cueing systems) even though a mass amount of scientific evidence over the past 30 years disproves these methods.

This is a technical read with lots of big words and lengthy sentences (one sentence I counted clocked in with 49 words). The basic premise is that reading scientists know a lot about the brain and how it works with regards to learning to read, and their
Sara floerke
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Mind blow.
Technical book about the state of reading instruction in American schools. Seidenberg blasts away (with humor and wit) at the state of how we teach kids to read without any of the current science. Fascinating.

Roughly 40% of American students are reading below grade level. 40%, People! You all are readers and should be mightily concerned because we know that you have to be a skilled reader to properly comprehend health care, education, government, business, etc. Yet our schools don't us
I didn't realize when I picked this up how much of it was focused on teaching kids to read English in the US, because (ironically) I didn't read the title carefully. I'm not a teacher, so the parts about education methods and policy weren't my favorites, but even they included some things I wouldn't have intuited, and the book overall covered some ground it wouldn't have occurred to me to wonder about.
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-release
A good scientific reading book.
Mar 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Parents, teachers
This is a fascinating book. It is also difficult, filled with jargon, and seems to expect a lot of previous knowledge by the reader. I looked up a lot of words, but even then, I'm not sure the dictionary meanings help in this very technical context. The first seven chapters or so cover the "How We Read" part of the subtitle, and I loved them. I've always been interested in how reading works. Lately I've thought quite a lot of the difference between reading printed pages and listening to audio bo ...more
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I heard Seidenberg speak at a ResearchEd conference in Brooklyn a while back, and I found what he had to say really interesting, but he was a bit kooky and used terms I'd never heard before like "statistical learning," so I wasn't sure what to think, as he seemed to stand outside of the mainstream of education speak. My interest was piqued however, as I happen to also follow the Language Log blog, which he is a contributor to, and in reviewing my notes of his talk, his points continued to jump o ...more
Jerrid Kruse
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Major takeaways: 1) spelling, sound, and meaning interact when reading. 2) phonics is good. 3) we don't know how best to teach reading. 4) neuroscience tells us that certain parts of the brain associate with certain tasks, but we don't know why or how.

The book is well written and a bit entertaining. However, the author never provides any insight on how the research cited translates into the neat/clean teaching methods they desire. While I agree with the author that teaching is seen as too much a
Jun 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Sidenberg is a reading SCIENTIST, thank you very much, and he'd love to explain how he and his colleagues have, using the SCIENTIFIC METHOD, conducted experiments to find out how children actually learn to read. Not anecdotes. Not theories. Not models. Ok, maybe a few models, but those are computer programmed models to mimic neural networks. And everything is tied together with how language actually works and how children develop. To that end, Sidenberg finds much fault with schools of education ...more
Apr 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book works on so many levels, and all of them are interesting to someone who loves to read as much as I do. The author explores how we first invented written language, what impediments keep many from learning to read, how the brain processes written language and how we could do a better job of teaching reading. The final section is a frightening analysis of how teachers are prepared (or not prepared) to teach reading, working from pedagogical models that have been completely undermined by t ...more
Mar 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At times mind-blowing and at other times a complete slog. The author was so funny, witty, fiesty, and then completely boring. Seidenberg provided interesting information about language, but I wanted more insights into the best way to teach struggling readers. According to the science (though not clearly explained by the author), phonics is the most important base. Fortunately, I've been using the best parts of three different phonics curricula with my intervention students.
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting summary of the state of the art in reading research. The neuropsychology and brain bases of reading section was a bit too detailed for me (I skipped most of chapter 9), but I particularly appreciated the critique of the phonics vs whole language pedagogies and the commentary on how teacher prep programs should prepare teachers to teaching reading but don't and why.
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting read about the science behind reading! As a former public school educator, I found his critiques of the education system and culture very impression. Some may find it harsh, he admits that it can come off that way, but he raises many questions as to why the methods of teaching haven't changed with this more in-depth and developing science.
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I picked this up thinking there would be practical information on teaching reading. The author spends a quarter of his pages bemoaning the lack of scientific proof behind the current methods and the rest of the book describing the way the brain works or doesn't when reading based on scientific studies of live people and computer simulations.
John Kissell
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent guide to understanding how we read ... and how our minds work.
Barbara Adde
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well written and even entertaining at times, but a bit of a slog anyway...I was interested primarily in reading about dyslexia and have always had an interest in how language and writing first developed, but it was more than I needed. I
Carl Van Valkenburg
Treasure Trove

A well-written book containing a great deal of fascinating information. I have seldom read a book that couples bothvwide and deep perspectives about a topic so successfully.
Jeanette Speka
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a reading intervention teacher I found this book both interesting and valuable to my work with beginning readers who struggle with learning to read. All educators should read this book.
Deborah Gorman
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It is a refreshing and thought-provoking book, which covered the subject of the literacy gap thoroughly and convincingly.
The book provided in-depth analysis of the subject and current research with insights backed up by conclusions drawn from his research and that of others in the field. For the non-academic reader, which is me, it was overwhelming at times, but his occasional humor made the
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
"American attitudes toward teachers are frankly incoherent. We want outstanding people to enter the field but provide little incentive to do so. We expect teachers to be able to educate every child, including ones for whom the obstacles to learning originate outside the school. They should be able to do this without adequate training, having figured it out on their own. The educational establishment- from the schools of education, to the school systems, to the state and federal government agenci ...more
Feb 21, 2018 rated it liked it
I was especially interested in the third portion of the book, The Educational Challenges. Having explained the history of writing/reading and the science behind learning to read, the author then discusses why so many children seem to struggle to learn this crucial skill. He spells out various causal factors of "achievement gaps" ... poverty, racial minority, bilingual or bidialectal issues, and gaps in educational theory that are failing America's students. Although new research on cognition cou ...more
Oct 17, 2017 rated it liked it
I tried really hard to love this book since I am very interested in the subject matter, and there were parts that I found incredibly interesting and new about the subject, but it is written like an academic paper, presentation, or lecture notes from a course and therefore can be very hard to sit down and just read and sometimes doesn't seem to follow a clear trajectory. At the same time, if you go too long between reading, it is hard to remember what came before. Might need to have your own copy ...more
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
This was VERY dense - Seidenberg provides a ton of information in a relatively short book. It's fascinating to understand more of how our brains approach reading and great to have more knowledge to inform how I approach struggling readers.
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I’m Mark Seidenberg, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was originally a psycholinguist but you could call me a cognitive scientist or cognitive neuroscientist and I’d be good with it. I grew up in Chicago, and went to a few colleges but only Columbia gave me any degrees, including a Ph.D. I was a professor at McGill University and then at the Uni ...more
“American attitudes toward teachers are frankly incoherent. We want outstanding people to enter the field but provide little incentive to do so. We expect teachers to be able to educate every child, including one for whom the obstacles to learning originate outside the school. They should be able to do this without adequate training, having figured it out on their own.” 0 likes
“The serious way to improve reading-- how well we comprehend a text and yes, speed and efficiency-- is this (apologies, Michael Pollan):

Read. As much as possible. Mostly new stuff.”
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