So the unending debate over whether or not reading on the Internet is “really” reading gets played outÂ once again in this New York Times piece titled “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” It’s the story of a “typical” family where the kids are online some six hours a day reading and writing at FanFiction.net among other places. There’s not too much hand wringing on the part of the parents, however, who say things like â€œIâ€™m just pleased that she reads something anymore.â€
So here’s the crux of the debate:
As teenagersâ€™ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading â€” diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books.
But others say the Internet has created a new kind of reading, one that schools and society should not discount. The Web inspires a teenager like Nadia, who might otherwise spend most of her leisure time watching television, to read and write.
Kudos to the “experts” who note the difference with reading online:
What is different now, some literacy experts say, is that spending time on the Web, whether it is looking up something on Google or even britneyspears.org, entails some engagement with text…In fact, some literacy experts say that online reading skills will help children fare better when they begin looking for digital-age jobs.
So here is the interesting question for me: do we need to teach online reading? Some think not:
Some simply argue that reading on the Internet is not something that needs to be tested â€” or taught. â€œNobody has taught a single kid to text message,â€ said Carol Jago of the National Council of Teachers of English and a member of the testing guidelines committee. â€œKids are smart. When they want to do something, schools donâ€™t have to get involved.â€
Don’t they? I think they do. I think that we have to help our kids navigate online reading spaces and provide an appropriate balance between print and digital environments. I think we have to help kids process and track and organized the things that they read, teach them to respond in effective ways, teach them to interact and become participants in the process in ways that don’t restrict their passion and creativity but also give them some context for what they are doing.
Read the whole thing. All in all, it’s a pretty interesting back and forth between old readers and young, and the bottom line is that it’s obvious that’s it’s something we need to be thinking of as we think about reading curricula and pedagogy.
(Photo “what am i reading?” by jamelah.)
Dean Groom says
In addition to reading Will, consider digital writing. Remember a decade ago, kids in computer rooms would use them to learn to touch type. Now we assume that when they hit high school, they can type. They can txt, but typing? We seem to have accepted that they keyboard is ‘just another writing’ tool, yet the gap between books and screen is still that much larger it seems. I think we do need to teach reading on the screen. We did some observations on kids activity when asked a question. Few ‘read’ for more than a few minutes – choosing to skim sites for keywords, and when nothing obvious showed up, they engaged in more self-directed interests until either the teacher ‘gave the answer’ or some kids hit gold, then they used that URL. How different is that to what happens in a text book lesson? Not much I’d say – except that the teachers can ‘tell’ in a text book lesson that this is happening, but seemed unable to do the same in a room of computers. Yes we need to focus on reading online – and to my mind community classroom blogging is one great way to do that.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the comment Dean. On reading habits, I think I should have mentioned the earlier conversation we had here about Nick Carr’s piece as the two have a lot to connect. I’ll say it again, at the very least, teachers need an understanding of this, some context for helping kids through the digital reading process. Not much happening in terms of helping teachers get there in any formal way.
I don’t like how so many studies just say that students online are doing “web activities.” The varied amount of information available on the web doesn’t allow for all websites to be grouped together. There is a large difference between the NYT website and the Care Bears website. I realize that my blog has never been (and never will be) mentioned for a Pulitzer Prize like Mr. McCullough’s, and I’m guessing that is work is outstanding, but his statement “Learning is not to be found on a printout…Learning is acquired mainly from books, and most readily from great books” is quickly becoming antiquated and darn near ignorant. It does appear that the “traditional” approach to reading is slowly slipping towards the minority, though.
After having read Daniel Pink’s book on the transition to a right brained workforce, I do find this switch in literacy more interesting. According to Pink’s book (and other works, of course), our society is moving from the concrete left brain world to a more broad thinking right brain. Yet we are moving from more fiction based texts, requiring you to use your imagination to join in the book, to an Internet that is generally (albeit not always accurate) more non-fiction based that takes you to the setting. Just something I thought was interesting.
Thanks for sharing the article, Will. It will definitely be used in the next few weeks.
I just finished that article. McCullogh’s “Learning only comes from books” statement, as Josh said above, really struck me as wrong. What are you saying to kids who don’t enjoy reading or who have difficulty reading? You’re not learning? I know lots of people my age (pre-Internet) who refused to read anything longer than a magazine article. One co-worker from many years ago was proud of the fact that she’d never read a whole book. But the woman was not dumb. She’d pieced together quite a bit of learning from articles and Cliff’s Notes. Do I think she missed something by doing this? Sure, but not everyone learns the same way. Isn’t that old news? Why do we keep holding up textual literacy as the. only. thing.? We need to start placing value on other kinds of literacy. So maybe those kids who don’t read novels aren’t going to become English teachers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still contribute.
Sigh. Obviously this issue hits a nerve.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for the comment Laura. I’m a bit on the fence about this, because I do think reading longer works is an essential skill, but certainly not the only way that learning occurs. That statement is from one who doesn’t read much online, I would guess.
Alan Kwan says
A fair question to ask first is: Is reading a book still reading? What constitute reading? Is it just getting the words into the brain? Or is comprehension required?
I could make up a statistics on the fly but I would dare speculate that even most of the reading of books (and any other printed materials) done by students these days does not include comprehension. As in their answer to the question, “What did you just read?” will be an overwhelming, “I don’t know.” If that’s the case, I would go so far to say, comparing booking reading to online reading in order to show one being superior to the other is utterly furtile.
The argument over the medium is silly in my opinion.
I don’t think it’s the medium but just that they are reading. I love that students are reading anything. I know that most are reading more then just Facebook, but even reading Facebook has it’s own value.
I’m personally glad to see a student read anything. The medium just doesn’t matter.
Will Richardson says
But isn’t that lowering the bar here? I know Facebook has value, but if that’s all a kid reads, will he or she really be “ready” for the world (whatever that implies?)
Ken Allan says
Kia ora Will!
I’m inclined to agree with Alan Kwan. What the heck about the medium.
I’ve not long written a post on the barriers to elearning. One of them clearly is the keyboard for some kids. Whatever the incentive, if it gets kids to use the keyboard and do some reading from the screen then that’s a motion in the right direction.
It used to be said that comics (the printed sort) were the destruction of reading. I didn’t agree with that. Comics gave kids an incentive to read. Reading experts the world over now tell us that it doesn’t really matter what kids are reading as long it is culturally appropriate. If the need to learn to read is an issue for kids that wanted to read comics it ceased to be an issue. Fact.
Same with computers I say.
Mark Ahlness says
Will, I sigh with you. Been believing, preaching and practicing this for a coupla years – in third grade. The big machine moves and changes ever so slowly….
Is this SSR, 2.0?
Will Richardson says
Thanks, Mark. Great post. Maybe it’s time for a two year’s hence reflection??? ;0)
Nicole Welding says
Standardized test scores in reading have declined or stagnated? Hmmmm… Consider: we have the largest number of children living in poverty of any industrialized nation… Standardized tests largely favor middle-class white students… How do poor, minority, ESL, special ed students factor into the equation? I disagree that “hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading â€” diminishing literacy, blah, blah, blah…” I find myself asking who is propagating this message and what is their agenda? Consider: The earliest standardized testing comes from China during the Han dynasty. The imperial examinations covered the Six Arts which included music, archery and horsemanship, arithmetic, writing, and knowledge of the rituals and ceremonies (Wikipedia). Our culture predicates that which we test–ignoring digital literacy and its benefits to our students is simply stupid–if you ask me 🙂
‘Some simply argue that reading on the Internet is not something that needs to be tested â€” or taught. â€œNobody has taught a single kid to text message,â€’
Many kids enjoy and seek out on their own sports such as basketball/football/volleyball … but no one would say that they could not use some direction to form a winning team.
Anne Baird says
To answer your question Will, Yes I do think we have to teach online reading. In the same way as we help students to understand narrative and how it differs to information text . To me, teaching how to read and understand different texts is like giving our young readers a key to open up the magic box. The key is helping them to understand how the the text works so that they can get meaning from it. Alan Kwan raises comprehension in reading or lack thereof. To me reading is not reading unless it is comprehended. Reading is comprehension. Unless you actually gain meaning from a text are you actually reading? Text that is online is no different is it not? It is perhaps a different type of reading, perhaps the ‘key’ needs to recognise that the way to get meaning and to create meaning is different. It certainly something that has made me wonder and think about what I do when I read online and how that is different to the way I read books. Thanks for the post. It has started a whole line of new thinking for me.
Gary Stager says
The NCTE spokesperson made an amazing admission, literacy is natural.
Those three words shake schooling to its core.
Will Richardson says
Ok, Gary. That deserves more than 19 words. I know you are busy this weekend, but there are some obvious questions your statement generates…
Jan Smith says
I agree that as teachers we must “help our kids navigate online reading spaces”. As the web evolves students need our mediation and support even more, and a significant part of it may be to help them control their connectedness.
At the BLC conference,(Ustream on his site) Clarence Fisher talked about “teacher as network administrator”. Not in the sense of a tech role, but as the person who helps students hook up with information they want/need on an individual basis. By asking, Who are you reading? Who are you not reading? we can begin to coach kids in building their learning networks.
That’s a powerful idea that shifts my understanding of my job as a teacher.
Theda Rudd says
This Friday night my daughter and I will attend a Goth Prom at a local bookstore celebrating the midnight release of Stephenie Meyer’s _Breaking Dawn_. I expect the place will be packed with preteens, teens and adults eager to read this fourth and final book. I’m an English teacher and a mom, and my anecdotal evidence suggests that lots of young people these days enjoy reading, even 500+ page novels (Potter, Eragon, Twilight, etc.).
So research indicates that students don’t score as well on reading comprehension tests as they once did. Does this data indicate a decline in reading skills or in test-taking skills?
If a student doesn’t see value in reading an assigned book and if the assessments aren’t authentic, then the Internet provides enough information about the text to meet the teacher’s expectations. When teachers assess students’ reading with multiple-choice tests, they encourage students to read reference information about the text rather than the text itself. Thus, reading comprehension of literature suffers.
In some classrooms, though, students are motivated to read a book because they are personally engaged with the text or because they are invested in an authentic assessment. These students respond to text by speaking and writing via a wide-range of media. These students may find it difficult to pick one answer: A, B, C, or D on a test of reading comprehension.
The Internet has empowered student readers. They are less likely to continue reading an uninspiring text because other texts are so readily available. Also, students participate in a gigantic community of readers online, so they aren’t dependent on one English teacher and one librarian for book recommendations and discussions.
Students are not as willing to read assigned texts, but they are very interested in reading self-selected texts.
When I taught middle school language arts in the pre-web days, I used a workshop approach where students could choose their own reading materials. While the focus was generally on fiction, I gave them a fair amount of choice in terms of non-fiction and magazines. I often think about how I would take advantage of the wide range of reading materials available now. I think I would certainly incorporate mini-lessons on how to read and write on the web. In addition, I think I would allow students to listen to books as well since there are several authors whose work I prefer to listen to. I guess I can’t get too uptight about the medium; after all, all the books and the daily newspaper and weekly magazine I read now are on my Kindle so the lines are getting pretty blurry anyway. The important piece for me was that they were reading AND comprehending and I measured comprehensive through their comments in reading logs.
I think reading on the Internet definitely counts as reading. I compare reading on the Internet to reading a magazine. Just as we page through a magazine for a multitude of purposes, people surf the Internet for a variety of purposes.
Teaching students how to read online is vital. As we look to the future the Internet is becoming more and more a necessity for survival in today’s fast paced and information rich society. As educators part of our role is to prepare students for the future. Teaching students strategies and providing students with experiences reading text online will help prepare them for the future.
Melanie Ching says
The longer we wring our hands and gnash our teeth about literacy rates declining, the swifter they will surely fall. While we engage in futile debate, the trickle of information that our chlidren play in will become a torrent, and we’ll watch helplessly as they are swept away. Why? Because we did not provide them with life preservers and rafts and paddles at the onset. Should we teach them how to read online text? Absolutely. And we should approach it with the same enthusiasm and energy that we approach any other genre. Balance is essential here, as with anything else. As teachers, we should be looking for multiple entry points into the material for our incredibly diverse learners. Why shut the door on an entry point that holds not only appeal, but untapped potential for many?
John Howell says
We at the elementary level focus heavily on literacy instruction and by the time the students reach me in fifth grade they are really very familiar with many of the strategies that effective readers use.
However, we have now been charged with helping students transfer these same strategies while reading online. Where do we begin?
I am not sure that I would agree with Carol Jago’s argument that “reading on the Internet is not something that needs to be tested â€” or taught.”
I would ask you Will, have you ever found yourself reading a book and then when you have reached the bottom of the page realize you have no idea what you have just read?
How about this one? Have you ever found yourself thinking of something else while reading?
I know in my case, the answer is a resounding yes.
So, I am guessing that if adult readers find themselves “distracted” for whatever reason, then there are children experiencing this as well.
My point here is that I believe, and I may be wrong, that the distractibility levels go through the roof when students are reading online and they may never reach that intense deep reading experience. I think part of my job as an educator is to empower students to recognize their own reading habits and make effective choices based on their realizations.
If their minds are wandering while reading then at some point, it is up to them to recognize that and make an effective decision. This meta-cognitive strategy holds true when reading a book or reading online.
I am pretty sure that was at least part of what Nicholas Carr was trying to say.
The interesting take on all of this is that I too am now in the trenches with these students trying to figure out how to stay focused while reading online. For me its blogs, twitter, listening to a podcast, chatting on Skype, sifting through Google Reader, and answering emails. I will say that I was not doing anything else while writing this commentâ€¦ ugh.
Thanksâ€¦keep on keepinâ€™ on.
Cory Plough says
Will – I teach at a hybrid school where 90% of our courses are online. Once a week the students come in to work in a homeroom class with teacher mentors that help them complete assignments (among other duties). From first hand observation, its obvious reading online is a different skill then reading a book. Students are constantly bouncing from one page to another, back again, and so forth. All that bouncing around seems to support that students dont ingest as much when reading online.
In addition, our kids (mostly at-risk) prefer to skim and read as little as possible with the CTRL F function being their best friend.
This is mostly the teachers/admins fault since a lot of online courses have lower-level multiple choice assessments and kids just search for key words to find answers as quickly as possible (similar to reading a chapter in a hardcover book which is often another lower level task).
The point is, we aren’t teaching kids to read online because we ask the wrong questions. That, combined with the way we search for information and read multiple sources at the same time, reinforces that kids only get the very minimal of the material we want them to try and understand.
As a teenager, this surprises me, though I suppose it shouldn’t. I really truly prefer reading solid material. I’m not sure why but I find it a lot harder to focus when I’m reading on a screen. Perhaps this is true of everyone, which could be one of the factors on standardized test scores, though I am opposed to standardized testing in the first place – a whole other issue… Anyway, the way things are going now, I think young people do need to be taught how to interact with computers for educational purposes. Browsing reference resources, using online courses for credits, typing, and reading online material effectively could make a huge difference in the quality of learning and future education of a student.
Our methods of relaying information are changing and I think students need to know how to react appropriately, though it pains me… I love nothing more than a good book. I would even rather browse a textbook than use an online recourse. One definite plus to online reading though, hands down, is the ability to search for key words and phrases and skip tonnes of unrelated information at the click of a button.
Will Richardson says
Thanks for stopping by Lindsay. It reminds me that there is never just one vision or practice for any of this stuff. And there is no problem with “loving a good book” in fact I hope my own kids say that when they become teenagers. The fact that you are reading and writing here, however, gives me the sense that you will do just fine in terms of being able to navigate both of these environments pretty well.
Tracey Carlton says
Cory and Lindsay have valid points. Much like Cory, I teach online; however, our program is 100 percent online. My class uses some multiple-choice tests, but the majority of the assessments are authentic using various media and forms. Cory is absolutely correct that the assessment must reflect the level of thinking we are expecting from our students. While multiple-choice questions may have their place as a small portion of the assessments given (especially since standardized tests, including AP tests) call for such test-taking skills, they should not constitute the end for the means of testing knowledge gained from an electronic source, or any source for that matter. The electronic medium is here to stay, thus we must teach our students, as Lindsay points out, to use that source effectively and efficiently, the same as our teachers did in teaching us to use a set of hard-bound encyclopedias or the traditional card catalog.
*A point of interest: I teach AP English and World Mythology, and my students would much rather read a hard copy of an extended work rather than on screen (this relates to Lindsay’s post). It all depends on the nature and purpose of the assigned reading–a premise that is no different than how we decide to choose our sources of information.
Scott McLeod says
1. Is the issue READING or LEARNING? I’d argue that it’s the latter, in which case there are multiple pathways to success. Am I an avid reader? Yep. Are my kids avid readers? Yep. Like Will, do I think there are benefits to being able to read and comprehend long texts? Yep. All that said, do I (and you) know a ton of successful people who rarely if ever read long texts? Yep.
2. Do schools need to be involved in this? Absolutely. Just read the stats again from the article:
The Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, has developed a digital literacy test known as iSkills that requires students to solve informational problems by searching for answers on the Web. About 80 colleges and a handful of high schools have administered the test so far. But according to Stephen Denis, product manager at ETS, of the more than 20,000 students who have taken the iSkills test since 2006, only 39 percent of four-year college freshmen achieved a score that represented â€œcore functional levelsâ€ in Internet literacy.
Janice Friesen says
Thanks for your thoughts. I wrote about the same article in my blog (http://malahinitx.blogspot.com/), but for a totally different reason!
I have followed the work of Donald Leu at the University of Connecticut for a long time. The article did a good job, I think, of laying out the issue. Reading the Internet is NOT the same as reading a linear text (I got here because I was editing a Wiki that led me to another blog that I added to my Bloglines. Now I am catching up on a few blogs. Very different than book reading.) Unfortunately, this is ignored in schools for the most part.
Dar Hosta says
What was tragically missing from that NYT article, and you have already touched on this Will, was how we adults and educators have missed the opportunity to steer kids in good directions when it comes to understanding, navigating and discriminating online text. The Tree Octopus portion of this news story is a glaring and incriminating piece of evidence to this point.
At the end of last year, my web-savvy 6th grader came home from school for about a week with piles of crumpled up newspapers. They were doing their required “Newspaper Unit” in Language Arts and, accompanying the pile of newspaper he’d stuffed into his backpack was a scavenger hunt type worksheet he had to complete each day of the unit study. I love newspapers, mind you, though I have gone almost totally digital for a number of reasons that I am sure I do not need to list here. I could even like scavenger hunts, despite the fact that they are often tedious busywork without meaningful educational objectives, but I was astonished by this assignment given, frankly, the socio-economic level of our district and the caliber of technology we have at our disposal. I wrote an email, not disparaging the inclusion the paper newspaper, but encouraging a parallel exploration of digital news media within the unit. I noted that digital news media was so full of the things that could interest kids in the news, interactive graphs and maps (geography anyone?), opinion blogs and links, photo albums, and the list goes on. What a better way, what a better setting, to make kids online reading meaningful?!? What a better way to get kids interested in the NEWS?!? This unit, for my son, by the way, was absolutely tedious busywork as he has been engaged in digital news media for years. So, in our case, what a waste of time.
In any case, I contacted 10 school individuals with my concerns and suggestions, including all the teachers on the team, guidance, administration and the technology curriculum director (who might even read this blog). I got NO response. No acknowledgement. Nothing. Now here is what really gets me mad about this whole thing. It seems now that if you are a parent who is making good suggestions, voicing valid concerns about these types of things, the reaction coming back from school staff is often cold, indifferent and, at worst, almost like “who does she think she is telling us how to do our jobs.” I’m sure many out there would argue that it’s partially my fault for not attending board and PTO meetings, and they would be right. Sadly, there are only so many hours in a day. But articles like this only highlight the fact that, even in districts where there are carts and carts of laptops, there is still a great deal of reluctance on behalf of MANY teachers to help kids use technology in a useful, smart and educational way (for reading or whatever)–even when the perfect and easy opportunity presents itself.
I’ve been lecturing for a few years now on creativity in the classroom and much, but not all, of my talks have to do with technology’s contribution to classroom creativity, particularly with Gen Y kids. When I ask a group of teachers if they have a cart of laptops in their school, there are many who don’t even know. I have listened to many tech teachers tell me that the carts often sit, unchecked-out, for weeks and weeks and, in my own kids’ elementary school, a member of the PTO had to stomp into the school to rant about how the newly purchased laptops were not being used and why? I tell teachers that if I had a cart of laptops at my disposal, I’d be a fool to not have my name on the checkout list AT LEAST once a week, if not more.
I also point out that the acronym T.E.A.M. (“Together Everyone Achieves More”) found on the door of nearly every school guidance office is, unfortunately, often thought of as only applying to the student body. I encourage teachers to embrace staff members, particularly teacher to teacher, parents, and students who can help navigate the creative and technological landscape with them. There is no excuse for the divide illustrated in this article. I make books and I don’t think books are going anywhere anytime soon, Kindle or otherwise. But if we don’t have a parallel digital reading objective for our kids too, then there is no one to blame but ourselves for their shortcomings.
Wow. I get really fired up about this.
Donna Benson says
I think that reading both online and offline is important for kids–consider that in our daily lives we do both.
The key really needs to be that both methods of delivery are important and finding ways to help kids have a multimedia experience is what is going to carry them through the realities of this day and age.
Our site, The Cupcakes Club tries to do just that by offering girls aged 7-12 an online book club that coincides with the books that they receive every few months. We want to tie both means of reading it together.
The Cupcakes Club
Now days kids just donâ€™t know how to deal with the pencil or with the reading books thing, they depend totally on the computer, which is not entirely bad but to much dependency is not good the point is that we have to teach the kinds handwriting because thatâ€™s important too.
Is an interesting theory because it explain us how we deal with this tow thoughts thing, how our minds accept or not the fact of lie in some circumstances, because we are going to obtain something if we do it.