In the digital age, what exactly is “reading” and how do we assess it?

We were prompted in our informational technologies in educational organizations to read this New York Times article and respond to topic questions regarding linear vs. nonlinear text.  I feel that both are important, and that we really need to reexamine how we are testing students in terms of reading in this country – are they really developing critical thinking and career-oriented skills by reading “classic” books they might have no interest in, like Sense and Sensibility and Heart of Darkness?

Storytelling itself is often non-linear, especially in its oral form, but also sometimes in book form.  In high school, we discussed how The Odyssey started “in media res” – in the middle of things, and close, chronologically, to the end of Odysseus’ journey.  In terms of other media, some of the more recent thought-provoking TV shows and movies, popular among both teens and adults, have non-linear storylines that explicitly make them not only more interesting, but wouldn’t activate your critical thinking skills in linear form – Lost and Memento are two such examples.  Several of the traditionalists in the NY Times article argue that students can’t read for sustained periods of time, because most of the reading done on the Internet requires a short attention span.  Though generally true, there are many novel-length stories that exist on fanfic.net, and even series that are/were very popular, such as the Draco Trilogy by Cassandra Clare (who is no longer hosted on the site, but that’s another story).  As a future librarian, I want to teach my students how to read both in a linear and non-linear fashion and the benefits of each.  Most importantly, I want to inspire them to truly enjoy both types of reading.

There are a multitude of benefits to reading online, such as the fact that it can inspire children and teens to write and publish their work online, whether it is in the form of a blog, book review, book trailer, or fanfiction (I’d like to use all of these forms of online publications with my future students).  Digital literacy also allow for students to explore multiple points of view on a particular topic in a speedy and efficient way, and to interact and converse with others online.   Many students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities find it easier to read and find information online.  In terms of reading comprehension, online reading is a great way to illustrate how to understand, make, and utilize textual connections, such as text-to-text, text-to-world, and text-to-self through hyperlinking and Web 2.0 tools such as Diigo and del.icio.us.  Many students and more and more college professors are realizing and utilizing the benefits of digital literacy.  Yet, as the article “Online, R U Really Learning?” demonstrates, it is often those who shape educational policy and standardized testing in this country that don’t realize the benefits of digital literacy, such as those in charge of the National Education Association and the National Assessment Governing Board.  Which is why it is crucially important that teachers and librarians for students at all age levels become innovative and creative in their approach to both print and online reading and how they can teach students how to comprehend, evaluate, and respond critically to each type.  We need to find ways to motivate our students to read, teach them the critical thinking skills they’ll need for college and in the workplace, and still make sure they perform well on standardized tests, however outdated these tests might seem.  A lofty goal, indeed.

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1 Comment

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One response to “In the digital age, what exactly is “reading” and how do we assess it?

  1. I like that you brought up the many benefits of students’ online reading and that there is a motivational component to it. When you wrote that it can “inspire children and teens to write and publish their own work online…” that is truly motivational. Thank you for an inspiring post.

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