So are we indeed not responding to the changes in the way young people read and holding steadfast to the ‘alphabetic literacy through reading print’ that we embrace?
I think there is some truth to this. Children do decode, ‘misread’ text, as we push them to gain literacy at a pace which suits our educational institutions. It is the mark of a good education however, to empower students to go deeper into sustained texts and gain insight into the writer’s mind. If you immerse yourself in a book, you do indeed create a collaboration with the writer (Zipe 2009 p.38) and learn about the human condition, civic responsibility, empathy and awareness of others’ lives.
Take for example the book ‘Wonder’ R. J. Palaccio. The Year 5’s devoured this book. They come from (by and large) privileged secure backgrounds, they do not have to worry about their visual impact on others. Reading through Augie’s eyes was a revelation. They were tangibly changed by this story – by understanding another’s life experience, empathizing with a fellow human being and gaining insight into their own prejudices and snap evaluations of a person’s character by their covering.
There are many devices vying for our attention these days. Quite a few people have written about the changes in the way that we read text – skimming, scanning and speed decoding for the main nub of information – grab and go. Nicholas Carr wrote beautifully on this subject pointing out how we are re-training our brains to scan rather than read long protracted works. Try a week of reading for university and then picking up James Joyce – I can guarantee that you will start skipping to the main plot elements instead of wallowing in the lyrical wonder of the text – which is the point of Joyce more than the plot I would argue.
So if all children did was skim and scan we would indeed be neglecting their needs. Children however are a different kettle of fish. They multi-task but they also have time. They are also hungry for validation and have an innate passion to find their place in the world. Reading sustained texts – books allows these discoveries, where their sense of place in society, cultural values and ideals, and ability to empathize with others is composted! From which the soul grows.
We do provide lots of screen time at my school. Tech is everywhere – ubiquitous. There is even a drive to vapourise the senior library and replace it with online resources only. What have we found by trying to force children towards only online – they want books. Not at the rate of my generation perhaps but still the demand grows. Books don’t have screens, they don’t have batteries and they can be taken just about anywhere. Children and tech savvy teens understand this. They also understand the currency of knowing about a story and being included into the ‘club’ of readers who have experienced and been changed by a particularly good tale – discuss it even, debate and analyse it.
We are recognizing the point of difference. Catering for it in fact. We are also firmly hanging on, encouraging and promoting the traditional book and its benefits. It would be silly to put all your eggs in one literacy rich basket. Bring on the plethora – as long as it’s done well and the children have the skills – tech or otherwise – to flourish and grow.
Zipe, J. (2009). Misreading children and the fate of the book in Relentless progress the reconfiguration of children’s literature, fairy tales, and storytelling. London: Routledge. (Chapter 2, p. 27-44)