20 March 2011

The Reading Revolution

Everywhere I turn, experts and pundits are espousing new technology, constantly urging us to experience the digital education revolution, BYOT, and replace books with the internet. We cannot hold back the tide of technological development and we shouldn’t even try. Because surely there is another, possibly bigger issue here. Soon it won’t matter what device you use to read - paper or screen - it will matter whether you are capable of reading.
Recent articles have suggested that reading patterns have changed as information is gleaned from digital sources. As on-screen information is blended with graphics, space, and moving images, the eye moves around more than its traditional left to right, top to bottom movement familiar in English and other Western languages. Let’s not forget the kind of writing many students are reading in their social use of media – short sharp tweets or facebook posts. 
Many scholars are discussing how these reading practices will impact on sustained reading of the ‘long-form text’. Just because novels, essays, manuals and textbooks can be displayed in digital form, does not mean that they have become simpler texts to read. Modes of educational delivery are also changing with technology. A number of Australian universities and schools have given students iPads or other mobile devices to use to access information, and one can only assume that this means the information/content will not be delivered in a lecture or class. Consequently, students of today (and the future) are going to need to be able to comprehend all of the information which is now at their very fingertips, and this will involve reading.

So what is my point in all this?

Instead of simply assuming all students will be able to access meaning in texts (digital or paper) once they have completed Primary school, we will need to be more active in our teaching of reading, particularly encouraging students to engage with long-form texts. If an essay takes 4000 words to successfully argue its point, then the reader needs so many skills and strategies to follow the logic of that argument and ascertain its merit in their search for information. This is the same with a novel or textbook. And it is this kind of sustained reading which invites all learners into more complex thinking. Whilst I have no data to offer here, it is my belief that reading and thinking are interdependent.
Thus, all teachers, of all subjects, need to share the responsibility for the literacy of our students. And whilst this is happening on a number of levels, it seems time to deepen our understanding of the following:
  • How reading operates
  • How it is taught (and sometimes even re-taught)
  • How it is assessed
  • How we can teach useful strategies to access meaning in all texts. 

(My thanks to Jenny P for her recent inspiration for this blog post.)

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