(UPDATE: Please read the correction above reagrding this post to understand the cross outs.)
I’ve been a Mark Federman fan ever since his great essay â€œWhy Johnny And Janey Canâ€™t Read, and Why Mr. And Ms. Smith Canâ€™t Teach: The challenge of multiple media literacies in a tumultuous timeâ€œ from a few years ago, which, if you haven’t read it, would land on my required reading list for anyone interested in this conversation. Federman is with the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, and he’s one of those people that just pops up from time to time to get me thinking.
His latest pop (Correction: This is actually by Mark Bauerline. Oh, the irony.) is in The Chronicle Review and it’s titled “Online Literacy is a Lesser Kind: Slow reading counterbalances Web skimming.” It’s an interesting recap of some of the online reading studies that have been done by Jakob Nielsen over the years, but itÂ quickly turns to a discussion of why technology has met with mixed (at best) success in the K-12 classroom over the years. In a word, it has to do with reading:
Digitized classrooms don’t come through for an off-campus reason, a factor largely overlooked by educators. When they add laptops to classes and equip kids with on-campus digital tools, they add something else, too: the reading habits kids have developed after thousands of hours with those same tools in leisure time.
In many of my presentations I ask those assembled what percentage of their reading is done online and whether or not they know of anyone who addresses online reading literacies in the classroom. You can probably guess the results: not much, and zero. (Well, almost zero.) Once again, this is one of those areas where the kids are doing it already and the educators in the room don’t have much to go on in terms of what the differences are or any substantial practical experience. Federman Bauerline makes the point that when new technologies enter the classroom, teachers see change. Students, on the other hand, see the status quo:
Educators envision a whole new pedagogy with the tools, but students see only the chance to extend long-established postures toward the screen. If digitized classrooms did pose strong, novel intellectual challenges to students, we should see some pushback on their part, but few of them complain about having to learn in new ways.
For some reason, probably because I was a former English teacher, I reflect on this whole reading is changing discussion a lot. Probably 75% of what I read I read online. The other 25% is almost all books. I read all of my news from papers, magazines, etc. online, all of my correspondence, all of the blogs that I follow. And, as I’ve written before, my reading habits have changed a great deal. It has become an effort for me to work with longer texts, to do sustained reading and thinking, to stick with complex narratives.
Federman Bauerline argues that screen reading cannot provide those skills, and he argues it persuasively.
We must recognize that screen scanning is but one kind of reading, a lesser one, and that it conspires against certain intellectual habits requisite to liberal-arts learning. The inclination to read a huge Victorian novel, the capacity to untangle a metaphor in a line of verse, the desire to study and emulate a distant historical figure, the urge to ponder a concept such as Heidegger’s ontic-ontological difference over and over and around and around until it breaks through as a transformative insightÂ â€” those dispositions melt away with every 100 hours of browsing, blogging, IMing, Twittering, and Facebooking. The shape and tempo of online texts differ so much from academic texts that e-learning initiatives in college classrooms can’t bridge them. Screen reading is a mind-set, and we should accept its variance from academic thinking.
This resonates. In fact, I’ve made myself take time over the last few months to read longer texts, and after plowing through three really, really engaging and challenging novels in the past month or so, I’m feeling like my brain is back in gear somehow. It’s getting closer to balance.
What continues to concern me, though, is the paucity of conversation about any of this in our schools. This is hugely complex, and it requires a strategy and good pedagogy. I feel almost blessed that my kids enjoy reading books, longer novels, Meg Cabot and Mike Lupica type stuff that are even above their age levels a bit. And I love talking to them about what they read. But as I watch Tucker search for and read helps and hints about Spore, I can see the difference. It’s not bad, but it is different. And it’s a difference we need to name.
Chris Jackson says
As an adult literacy teacher, the word in Fedelman as quoted that bugs me is “lesser.” I’m quite happy with multiple literacies, but not with an order of literacies where some are more important than others. I teach people to scan a webpage but also to read for meaning etc what they find. I think Fedelman may be confusing “engaging with intellectual ideas” with literacy.
Will, thanks for the reading. I’m struggling lately with the notion that technology investments in and of themselves are going to make better the way in which students learn. After reading Bauerlein’s, “Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind,” from the Chronicle Review, I found myself initially shaking my head in agreement that the way younger people, and even older ones, “read” on screen varies greatly from the way we read printed text. I get that. But, what troubles me is the idea that technology investments by themselves were going to be the silver bullet or the panacea to help our students achieve more.
When Bauerlein begins emphasizing the research that reveals how little affect technology investments have had on student outcomes is when I began to wonder how many of these investments were “bolted” on to the old paradigm. For instance, he writes, “To teachers and professors, a row of glistening new laptops in their classroom after a dozen years with nothing but chalk and blackboard, or a podium that has been transformed from a wooden stand into a multimedia console, can appear a stunning conversion. But to the average freshman walking through the door and ï¬nding a seat, it’s nothing new.” To me this isn’t new. It’s not new to give students tools like laptops and ask them to use them in the same mode of teaching and learning that has been practiced when I was a student in the 1980s and then expect them to outperform students who came before them. Of course no positive impact can be measured when the pedagogy some (and maybe many) teachers employ continues to be based around the content delivered by the teacher as opposed to the process and content that could be facilitated by the teacher in a more student-centric classroom.
I wish the conversation could turn away from the technology investment and more toward the investments *not* being made in the ways in which teachers teach. Bauerlein writes, “…the [lack of increased] results bear consideration by those pushing for more e-learning on campuses.” I’d like to see us push less for e-learning explicitly and more on ways in which students can be immersed and active in their learning. Then, and only then in my opinion, will we potentially see students achieving at higher gains because our technology investments were implemented in tandem with the promotion and practice of different, more student-centered methods of teaching and learning.
M. Walker says
I couldn’t agree more. The more I work with staff on tech integration issues, the more I see that it’s the pedagogy, not the technology that makes the difference.
Staff who are married to the old paradigm of teacher centered instruction have a hard time giving up control, and thus do not realize the benefits of the integration. As integrationists, we need to focus on the transformative pedagogy if we are going to see a difference!
John Dyer says
Agree it the pedagogy not the technology. Can you cite one or two examples of non teacher-centered instruction at the elementary level?
J. D. Wilson, Jr. says
I think you raise a very important point. As an English teacher I have always tried to draw distinctions between what we read. Time Magazine is not Middlemarch and skimming online is not Time Magazine. Too often folks in education see the newest thing as that which will cure all our ills. Every so often there is something new, it may be technology, it may be block scheduling. But these are just tools and only as effective as those using the tools. You can give me a hammer that is not going to make me into a carpenter. The skill at using the tool is the most important part. I think you also raise an important point about students’ relationship to technology. A difficult assignment is a difficult assignment whether it is done on a wiki or with pen and paper. It is likely that if students are not “pushing back” they are not being challenged.
J. D. Wilson, Jr.
Randy Rodgers says
Thanks for bringing that article to my attention, Will. Having recently started my PhD, I really struggled to get back into the type and quantity of reading required. This makes sense to me. I just met with a campus’s language arts teachers and shared it with them. They were very interested in further study of this issue.
As a technology specialist with a Masters degree in Reading, I don’t have a problem, at all, with the language “lesser.” Reading a complex text in detail is a cognitively more advanced task than the typical skimming that passes for reading on the Internet. Acknowledging that such a tendency exists should affect how we view the way a student conducts research, for instance. A student could be made aware of the tendency to skim online and be given strategies to promote more in-depth reading. Lesser doesn’t mean useless or inappropriate–it has its place and definitely has value.
So all those kids reading Rowling are some kind of outliers?
Shirley Smith says
I also agree wholeheartedly with Jason and M. Walker. We have made the technical changes–putting the technology into the classrooms, providing technology “training” for teachers, etc but we have not made the adaptive changes–creating all new practices instead of extending past practices, using new organizational ways of working, and most importantly challenging previously held values. When these things happen, we will actually be transforming education. One of those values we need to challenge may be how we define literacy and what it means to “pose strong, novel intellectual challenges to students”.
Doug Spicher says
Maybe I am dense….maybe I am just a dumb science teacher who does not know the difference. But it appears to me that what is being suggested here is that we limit on and off line reading because kids are going to skim anyway. That follows with the argument used by a few Va and MD districts who have deemed that homework is not to be assigned because the kids are not going to do it anyway. Kids who know how to read know how to read…period. If they are not taught the skills, text book or web based, then they will struggle to be a success. How much lower are we going to put the bar?
Randy Rodgers says
I don’t see any suggestion to limit reading at all. The point, to me, is that on- and off-line reading are inherently different processes, but this has not been evident in the curriculum and approaches to teaching reading. I see it as a call for more research and a greater understanding of the differences and their implications for learning and ed tech.
Chris Jackson says
OK, I’m encouraged to discover that it’s not the good guy you were quoting. I do find Bauerline’s piece elitist – he proposes a hierarchy of reading, with academic reading firmly in position at the top. Don’t we teach young people to do academic reading, or is this something we all do innately, unless swept aside by “screen skimming”? Computer habits may make it harder to teach academic reading. I think that if someone did research on the way people read magazines, Bauerline might be equally concerned at people’s non-linear reading. Ultimately we need to teach people to read using many different strategies appropriate to different situations. “Screen-reading” will be way up there.
John Dyer says
When you build a house, you use the tools specific to the job: rough carpentry is different than trim work. I can move quickly through the framing (to a point), but know that I better spend the time needed to properly do the finishing work.
Is this not a meta-cognitive exercise that students should be taught (in the context of information literacy): i.e. “what reading methods should I use in this portion of inquiry (or reading for personal enjoyment)?
Bill Gaskisn says
It seems I just had this discussion with a group of reading teachers a few weeks ago. The consensus was at most was reading on-line was really not real reading. They seemed to think reading a news paper article online was not the real thing. But they could not explain why….Except they finally admitted they had never done it. But they have done research online. What is the difference?
Beth Holland says
I haven’t checked this blog in a few days, but was totally amused to see this article- as well as the correction. Just last week, I had a conversation with a k-3 reading curriculum specialist. Here’s my issue.
I work with students in grades 2-8. They range from the gifted to the not-so-gifted. About 2% of my students are dyslexic or have some other challenges with reading. That said, all of them – throughout the age range – struggle to read online.
They struggle to read directions. They struggle to research. They really struggle to retain what they have read. While they can certainly scroll quickly up and down a page, finding the information poses a challenge. With younger grades, I have had to give paper-printouts of screen shots, asked them to circle the words that I want them to find (e.g. File, Edit, Save, etc) and then have them try on screen. My older students beg to be able to either print articles, or they copy & paste content into a document and call that “note taking.”
With all of the available technology, where in the reading curricula do we start teaching how to actively read online. They learn to take notes in books in English class. When do they learn to do the same thing on screen? Anyone else see this trend?
Catherine Laguna says
Beth, I also try to teach kids to read online. I am a science teacher but as part of my learning objectives for each chapter I include a reading skill. I begin with learning the parts of a text book then move to reading the text book. Later on we practice reading internet articles. I tell them that they have to collect the important information from the article that they can use later in order to share the article with other students. Finding articles by internet searching is only like finding the eggs in an egg hunt but reading the articles is like eating the candy inside. I often try to give supplemental reading to accelerated kids who are working independently on projects but it is very difficult to get them to actually take any information from those articles.
Rob Rubis says
So glad that the Bauerline article has made it into the discussions among the “choir”. Every comment here puts the lie to the notion that nobody’s talking about this. It’s becoming one of the key topics of discussion for the coming generation – of students AND teachers…
So, if I get the Baurlein article right; When I sit down at the computer and read the linked from the TOC page of the NYTRB articles of interest with a coffeecup and a muffin and copypaste the titles to my PDA for the trip to the book store, that isn’t reading compared to sitting with a paper copy of NYTBR at the kitchen counter with a coffeecup and a muffin and a notebook to jot down the titles for the trip to the book store?
Or do I need to be sitting in a reading chair?
Of course we read differently online – that was one of the prime reasons for starting the development of HTML. To facilitate linking to relevant resources; to be able to compare writings and ideas.