Friday, May 10, 2013

MindShift article about e-reading

A colleague sent me a link today to an blog post about e-reading (with a focus on iPads).  KQED, an NPR station in California has a page called "MindShift" that is subtitled: "How We Will Learn."  I like that.  It is about looking to the horizon and starting to anticipate some of the hurdles we will face.

I presented on using Kindles in the classroom at the TAIS Tech conference back in April.  I had 12 participants.  11 of them were excited about e-readers in classrooms and drawn to the possibilities.  They had questions and ideas.  1 participant was there out of anger.  She had been told by her administrators that all students would be using e-books on their iPads for reading.  She wasn't given a choice or voice in the matter and she was understandably upset (I bet a lot of our students would understand that feeling.)  This particular teacher is also a parent.  I only mention that because she represents an interesting demographic that I have encountered frequently.  Often when educators are discussing new ideas, a special insight is brought to the table by teachers who are also parents.  They blend those boundaries and can see more than one perspective on the issue.

BUT.  Every kid is different.  I know that as a mom with a toddler, I am often shocked when someone else's toddler has a different personality.  I assumed they were all like mine!  They aren't.  

This one participant in my session jumped in early on and said, "I have a teenager and if I give him an iPad to read, he isn't going to read.  He is going to be on social media the whole time."

I acknowledged that she is raising a real concern.  But, she was transferring the tendencies of some to the masses.  Perhaps she was arguing that I have it backwards--the masses were going to Google venereal diseases rather than read Jane Eyre.  This is not the first parent-teacher who has made that same comment.

I also realized that her anger was not my fault, nor was it my burden.  She was going to be pissed no matter what I said or did and she came to my session out of spite.  Well, as a teacher there is nothing knew in that feeling.

Why don't I agree with her?  Why am I not resisting the erosion of paper books?  Why am I advocating giving students a choice to read on paper or Kindle?

First, because I was a naughty non-reader in early high school, specifically in 9th grade.  We were given paper books and I just chose not to read them.  I am pretty sure I failed every quiz on Sophie's World because I never finished the nightly reading (often because I never started.)  I resented being told what to read, even more so if I didn't personally like the book, so I did the very mature thing: I refused to read to spite the teacher.  I don't think avoiding reading is new or unique to e-books.  Kids looking for distractions from their assigned reading don't lack them even if you put them in a cardboard box.  (Mark Isero has an interesting post about the "Big Brother" software that can track what you do on an e-reader on his blog Iserotope.)

More importantly, I don't think things will stay the same.  When cars were first invented, people resisted those too.  People were killed in this new scary way: hit by a car.  There were not many paved roads, no signs, laws, rules, or customs for driving.  It was a time of chaos.  But we as a car culture didn't stop there.  We developed systems and whole institutions around driving and cars.  Early periods of any new development are often like the Wild West.  I see a restoration of balance on the horizon.

That is what the article was talking about.  It didn't say that we should reject e-books because they are different and present some challenges.  Rather, we need to teach our students new ways to meet these new challenges.

Justin Reich, the author, points out two main types of reading: focused and connected.  (Louise Rosenblatt, a very influential researcher and professor of reading, had two types also: aesthetic and efferent.  Aesthetic is reading for joy, for it's own sake; efferent is reading to learn.)  For Reich, the focused reading is the reading of deep engagement and thinking.  Connected reading is about synthesizing information, making connections, drawing lines of interconnectivity.  He feels that e-texts are well suited for connected reading but perhaps present challenges for focused reading when apps and the internet just a swipe away.

So, what do we do?  Reich argues that we need to teach them to "clear the desk" for e-reading.  Just as we may teach a student to turn off the TV, clear the magazines and the other books off of their physical desk before they begin to do focused reading in a paper book, we need to teach them to do that digitally.  There are a variety of apps that can "lock" you into an app.  It makes it not impossible to stray, but more difficult, giving you more time to exercise some self control.  I guess that to me sounds like "locking it down" rather than "correcting the behavior" in the words of Richard Byrne, who spoke at TAIS Tech.  If you make something or someone else police you, you never learn self-restraint.  But I do think that the new mindset is a necessary one.  We need to teach our students to avoid and drown out the "noise" that is all the epic stuff happening on the internet.  (There is, in fact, a Facebook page called "I Cannot Go To Bed - There is Epic Stuff* Happening on the Internet.)

Some might think that teaching students to focus on a text and read deeply and with maximum engagement with an e-text is an impossible task.  I guess I am just a little more hopeful.  I do really believe that it is possible and that we can do it.  I think that if we put that effort in, the doors that are opened with e-books are of immense value.  

I feel like I am giving a lot of hope and no solutions.  The article focuses on the "Someday/Monday dichotomy," which balances what we stargazers see and what really needs to happen in a real class on Monday.  I guess I am willing to muddle through it and learn with my students.  As a teacher who uses an e-reader herself in class, I am learning as I go.  I don't have the answers, because I don't even know what some of the questions are.  I hope that my students will come up with as many of the answers as I will.

*That isn't the real word.  You know which one I mean.  I'm also not linking you to the page.  Not just because of the bad word, but because most of the stuff posted on there is pretty asinine.  Which just reinforces my point, I guess.


  1. Your comment about the facebook page reminds me of my favorite xkcd comic:

  2. Thank you for this post. I agree with you that we must teach students to "clear the desk." Dealing with digital devices is part of our world, and we can't escape potential distraction. Young people must have practice being conscious, being active in what they're doing, and staying "wide awake."