I Am Right! A Follow-up To My Rant About Online Reading

4/28/2014 12:00:00 AM
The future of books
The future of books (Photo credit: Johan Larsson)
On Monday, I posted some thoughts regarding an article from last week's Washington Post that was titled "Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say.I was excited to see a rebuttal to Michael Rosenwald's perspective by his Washington Post colleague Valerie Strauss this week. 

In her article, "Actually, online skimming probably hasn’t affected serious reading after all," Strauss notes the skepticism of Daniel Willingham, a cognitive scientist from the University of Virginia. Here is a bit of what Willingham had to say:
"… teachers aver that students can no longer read long novels. Well, if we’re swapping stories, I — and most of my classmates — had a hard time with Faulkner and Joyce back in the early ‘80s, when I was an English major."
"A more plausible possibility is that we’re not less capable of reading complex prose, but less willing to put in the work. Our criterion for concluding, “this is boring, this is not paying off,” has been lowered because the Web makes it so easy to find something else to read, watch, or listen to...If I’m right, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that our brains are not being deep-fried by the Web; we can still read deeply and think carefully. The bad news is that we don’t want to."
While I find Willingham's feelings on online reading versus more traditional means more palatable than those cited in Rosenwald's article, my conclusion is still the same. There is no one right answer! We need to embrace the struggle between reading online and reading from paper-based products. Forcing our students to do one or the other denies them the opportunity to see the benefits that each has to offer.  In addition, there needs to be an increased focus on the advantages of online tools so that students can meet more modern standards of literacy, like the ones below described by the National Council of Teachers of English in its Definition of 21st Century Literacies:
  • Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology;
  • Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought; 
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes; 
  • Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information; 
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts; 
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

cross-posted at www.patrickmlarkin.com

Patrick Larkin is the Assistant Superintendent for Learning of Burlington Public Schools in Burlington, MA and the former principal of Burlington High. He blogs about education at www.patrickmlarkin.com.

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