Sunday, July 27, 2008

Here We Go Again...

The media is suddenly intensely interested in the effect of the internet on reading skills. Last month, the Atlantic published Is Google Making Us Stupid? while today the NY Times ran a lengthy article entitled Online, R U Really Reading?

Anytime I read one of these articles, I picture of bunch of Medieval monks fretting over the printing press and bemoaning the inevitable loss of memory skills it will bring about.

To its credit, I found the Times article pretty balanced. Studies do show (and my personal experiences verifies) that online reading is vastly different from reading, say, Crime and Punishment. It promotes shorter attention span, jumping from text to text and idea to idea rather than deep sustained thought.

Yet many of the naysayers refuse to recognize the benefits of online reading: the immediacy, the ability to read multiple and varied opinions in a short amount of time, covering a breadth of material not possible in more traditional formats. If the reader has enough time and interest, depth need not be short-changed.

I've well documented in my early blog posts the profound experience my reading had on me last summer as I explored Web 2.0 technologies, almost solely online through blog postings and RSS feeds.

I am greatly troubled, however, by a comment towards the end of the article. Despite repeated studies showing students vast ignorance when it comes to thoughtful analysis of their online reading. Despite the 61% of students who failed to achieve competency levels on ETS new iSkills test (measuring information literacy), we still get bone-headed statements like this:

Some simply argue that reading on the Internet is not something that needs to be tested — or taught.

“Nobody has taught a single kid to text message,” said Carol Jago of the National Council of Teachers of English and a member of the testing guidelines committee. “Kids are smart. When they want to do something, schools don’t have to get involved.”

Oh, really.

Never mind the logical fallacy in comparing text messaging to reading, in what alternative universe does this woman live that students don't need to be taught critical thinking skills? Reading online may be a different kind of thought from sustained reading, but it requires thought nonetheless. In fact, one could argue it requires MORE analysis, as students must learn to distinguish between credible and non-credible sources, which is more difficult online than in printed text.

This comment (from an English teacher, no less) reaffirms an observation I've made over the past few months: my job involves training the adults every bit as much it involves training the students. Maybe more so, as teachers determine the amount of time I'm allowed in working with the classes. If they don't see a need, I don't see the students.

If you get a chance, take a look at the article and read some of the comments. It's an education in itself.

Photo Credits:

'Sustained Silent Reading'. Uploaded to Flickr Creative Commons
by vsqz on 19 Mar 06, 2.21AM PDT.

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