My passion is literacy. This is no surprise to any of you who know me in the real world or in the virtual one. However, if I were to give a definition to this passion, I would have to say that my real passion is adolescent literacy – what do kids read, write, view, listen to, and speak about and more importantly what will get them to read (more), write (more), view things differently and even critically, listen critically, and express themselves clearly. I’ve spent 19 years in the classroom observing young adolescents and literacy and honing my pedagogy to help them become lifelong readers, writers, and consumers of knowledge. I’ve sought graduate degrees in this field, and I’m currently writing my dissertation about this topic. You may say I’m an expert, but I’m not the only one… (to badly paraphrase John Lennon), and John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles is where I want to begin today.
My husband, who is stuck listening to me ramble on about literacy, recently sent me a link to an article in Salon magazine, Can Bells and Whistles Save the Book? The article begins with a discussion of The Yellow Submarine enhanced ebook offered by iBooks and other enhanced ebooks, many of which have children as a target audience.
As I read the article, I couldn’t help but question the author’s expertise on the subject of children’s literacy and question the lens from which she was viewing enhanced ebooks. Laura Miller, the author, included an anecdote about sitting down to read Yellow Submarine with her friend’s 7-year old twins. She states that instead of enjoying a nice afternoon reading, the twins began fighting. One twin wanted to read, and the other wanted to read and look at the enhancements. Miller, herself, was quite frustrated with the enhancements and went so far as to say that enhancements in all ebooks stopped readers from getting lost in the text, which in her opinion is the purpose of narrative. Her lens appears to be one of traditional reading experiences – one where books are made of paper (or possibly e-ink) and are simply text on a page.
I would like to ask all of you, gentle readers, what is reading?
Define it for me.
What do you do when you read?
How does what you do when you read compare to or contrast from your definition?
Think about it. Get into the metacognitive processes when reading. Think about what appeals to you or doesn’t when you’re reading. I personally don’t like graphic novels. However, I have students who LOVE graphic novels. I prefer a good piece of realistic fiction – especially one that really looks at character. My students prefer dystopian fiction with lots of action. So what’s right and what’s wrong?
When I think about reading in my classroom, I think about my goals. I want my students to be critical consumers of information, which means teaching them specific reading strategies as well as specific text structures and literary analysis. I also want my students to be lifelong readers, which means giving them choice of the types of text they read, the format of the text, and not judging their choice of text.
My students are digital natives. They’ve grown up with the internet and smart phones. They are bombarded with images daily. They’ve been playing video games since they could walk. I could view this as “wrong” because it’s not how I grew up. I could also take this knowledge and use it to my advantage. How does knowing this help me create lifelong readers and writers?
Knowing this helps me do the accommodating and not the other way around.
My students often walk into my room with the preconceived notion that language arts literacy is boring, and it is their least favorite subject. I can support this with my own research.
Knowing that my students don’t like my subject, I’ve learned to adapt my lessons to meet their likes. I, as digital immigrant, am doing the accomodating for my digital natives and not the other way around. I now craft written homework assignments as blogs instead of paper and pencil tasks. Surprisingly, I have more students completing written homework assignments and get better and longer written responses when I have them complete a blog.
Prior to the proliferation of e-readers, I provided graphic novels as a choice for independent reading. My students, who have grown up in a visually stimulating environment, prefer graphic novels to traditional novels. I think in addition to the images as well as the words telling the story, there’s an element of the forbidden to these texts. I often get the question, “Are you sure I can read this?” because the books appear to be like comics. In some cases the graphic novel hooks my reluctant reader.
Within recent years e-readers have become quite prominent in my classroom. Some use e-ink and are not overly interactive, some are a tablet form and are. What matters to me is that my readers are reading. The format does not. What one student likes, another may not.
One of the most basic tenets of our society is the freedom to say what we want and speak our mind without fear of repercussion. I’ll interpret this very loosely for my classroom. Students should have the freedom to choose to read what they want (with parent permission in some cases) in whatever format they want.
Because I am doing the accomodating. I want my students to be readers. All readers are not created equal. Some prefer paper. Some don’t. Some prefer fantasy. Some don’t. Some prefer books with short chapters. Some don’t. Some choose a book by its cover. Some don’t. Some… well, you get the point.
Just because I like something doesn’t mean my students will. Just because I prefer a specific text format, doesn’t mean my students will. My students have grown up in a world very different from the world where I grew up. When I was child, being able to have a conversation on a phone that was not hardwired to jack in the wall was a comedic gag involving a bumbling spy and a shoe phone. My how times have changed… I can either keep up or become irrelevant in my own classroom.
Enhanced ebooks, whether they’re for children or not, have their place in the world. They may help children build early literacy skills, or they may not. Or they may simply provide a bonding moment for child and parent – a chance for the child to realize that reading, no matter what form it’s in, is important.
What’s most important in this conversation is that children are reading – no matter what format the text may come in.
Until next time…. See YA!