21st Century Collaborative: The Future of Reading

21st Century Collaborative: The Future of Reading

Sheryl’s thoughtful posts always provide an interesting read.  Her essay on reading, in response to Amazon’s much heralded debut of the Kindle, took on a topic I’ve also been thinking about.  As she did, I’ll give you my “reading” biography: I LOVE to read anything, analog or digital, but I am a committed, somewhat obsessed bibliophile.  I read fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.  I love nothing better than to lose myself in a good story. I try to sneak in some book reading at the beginning of the day, and most days end with me in bed with a book, usually fiction.  I just love books; like Sheryl’s house, mine is stuffed to the gills, and I’m thankful that my husband, who is not a book reader, is willing to live with them.  You can see what I’ve been reading at my Library Thing account.

Just a couple examples of my obsession: I once chose an apartment simply because it had built in book shelves in the dining room. And, several years ago when we were thinking about putting on an addition, I boxed up most of my books and moved them to the garage.  I lasted for about six months, until one afternoon I found myself in the garage, opening boxes and pulling out books, flipping the pages to read old notes, making small piles to bring into the house.  Eventually, when the addition fell through, I moved them back in.

As Sheryl suggests, this love of reading books influenced the way I taught.  I focused on a pretty traditional form of literacy, although I adopted a constructivist pedagogy in which to do it.  I’ve written before about running a reading workshop for my middle school students.  We read books, but I wonder if now I would allow students to listen to books as well.  I don’t see why not, if that was the way they preferred to engage with an author.   The technology just was not widely available in the 1990s when I was teaching.  I love books and their physical  nature, but if others don’t, I don’t think I’d get hung up on the technology.  After all, that’s what book is…a particular technology that, like all technologies, met the need of its time.  What I wanted to do was give my students time to READ.  We tended to focus on fiction, but I allowed them to read nonfiction, too.  Again, the focus was on reading rather than a particular genre.  I did ask that they read books rather than newspapers or magazines because I wanted them to have the experience of reading something longer, of getting the sense of story or argument.

But Sheryl goes one step beyond things like audio books which just change the format without changing the content.  She envisions a different kind of non-linear, hyperlinked reading; she has a wide perspective on reading that includes interactive experiences like video games.  Traditional reading associated with books is subsumed in a larger definition of literacy that includes being able to read and write with multimedia.  I don’t disagree; in fact, I did a small research project related to defining this new literacy.  I used the term “media literacy” and worked with several educators to develop a definition and standards that would seem to reflect the new ways that people read and write.

I don’t think we’re facing an either/or proposition the way some have made it.  (Check on the NPR radio show On Point to hear one such debate.) Sheryl’s title–the future of reading–is much better than those who are debating the end of the book.  I don’t think we’re looking at the end of anything.   Richard Lanham, my old rhetoric prof at UCLA, has some really interesting things to say about the future of both reading and writing in the multimedia age.  In this interview, Lanham suggests that the rise of electronic reading experiences will not, even as they add to the rich options for interacting with authors and creators, negate the book.  It’s exciting, really, especially for people like Sheryl’s kids who do have the best of all these worlds, with lots of choices.

I went ahead and put in my order for the Kindle as a little end-of-the-year business expense; I just want to see how it works.   I do a ton of computer reading but there are things I don’t like about it that I’m hoping the Kindle might address, especially the format and the ability to annotate.  I also think I will prefer the more book-like portrait interface that lets me see a whole page at a time.

Mostly, I’ve spent some time thinking about my own practice.  If I were back in the classroom and had access, would I also let students “read” podcasts or movies?  I’m honestly not sure.  I’m definitely one of those teachers who is wired for reading printed text and I definitely have a bias towards it.  If I did choose to include other forms of reading material, it would have to be done in the critical way that students responded to their books with the focus on having a dialog with the creator of the work, rather than simply consuming for entertainment.  There’s the important media literacy piece, I think, that should be the focus of future discussions.

Thanks, Sheryl, for giving me lots to think about.  Thanks, also, for taking my mind of my upcoming comprehensive exams oral defense.  Now, back to the grindstone 😉

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