How much actual reading are students currently doing inside and outside of school?  The question is much more complicated than it sounds.  First of all, you have to define what reading is to the modern student.  There are at least two ways students read:

1. They will read continuously lines of linear text consisting of black font on white paper.  This is what most of us will recognize as a traditional book.  The vast majority of this reading is done either in self-chosen fiction as part of a sustained, silent reading program or outside of class as part of a concerted effort to achieve a large volume of books consumed.  This generally occurs in the upper elementary grades and in middle school.  This kind of reading virtually disappears after middle school.  For the average student, this is when this kind of reading stops altogether, except for some SSR programs run by language arts teachers in high school.  SSR programs beyond middle school are very hit and miss.  

2. Homework assignments in the upper elementary grades, middle and high schools often ask the students to read a chapter, or portion of a chapter, in the class text and then answer certain questions that follow.  From interviewing students, I know of few who would actually consider reading the assignment.  Most students read the assigned questions at the end of the chapter and then skim through the chapter looking for the requisite information.  Modern textbooks have become extremely helpful in this search.  They utilize bold-faced terms and explanatory text-boxes adjacent to the main text that students use to access the correct information.  Once students have located this information, they simply copy the text word-for-word.  They present their completed assignment the next day in class and the teacher gives them credit for its thoroughness.  There is no check whatsoever to ascertain whether the student has actually completed the assigned reading.  It should be added that students do not perceive that they have taken a short-cut through this assignment.  For them, skimming to locate information is reading.  They feel they have done their homework in good faith.

How did students come to understand that, in an academic context, skimming is reading? They certainly learned it from their life on the internet, which often consumes up to 5 times more of their attention than actual school work. Hold a modern textbook next to your computer with your browser opened to a typical website.  You will see a vast similarity in appearance.  Both visual displays are awash in color and iconography, what I consider eye-candy.  The internet is all about capturing eye-balls, which is the primary way it is funded.  If you capture eyeballs, you deliver them to advertisers.  On the internet, that makes perfect sense.  Today's textbooks use the same drag and drop publishing techniques to capture eyeballs as well.  The implicit assumption is that students are bored with the content and will only engage with the learning if they can be captured by eye candy.  


All of us are used to skimming websites looking for the information we desire.  We have trained ourselves to move quickly and search for relevancy.  We can visit an extraordinary number of websites in this fashion and satisfy our curiosity.  Older readers can break from this technique on occasion and engage and consume linear text when it meets our needs.  There are even modern browsers which have an 'enter reader' function that will display the text as black font on white paper, excluding at the same time all the advertising and extraneous and peripheral text-boxes.  In this way we can pause and read an op-ed from the New York Times or any interesting article we come across.  Will today's young readers do this?  Who is training them to do this?


My concern is that younger readers have settled for skimming as reading.  They do not break from this technique while on the internet and it easily carries over to their work in textbooks.  After all, textbooks and websites are remarkably similar.  They look alike and both contain information students need.  They just need to search and find it.  The next generation of textbooks will be online, or delivered in Kindle-like reading devices, and they will probably be searchable.  This will be welcomed by the modern student whose frustration with academic reading will be lessened by a search box into which he can type a key term.  Now locating the information to answer the questions at the end of the chapter will be a breeze.


The research behind the common core standards has correctly identified the flaw in this training.  The modern K-12 classroom is a very efficient content-delivery system.  Students are downloading content in classrooms the way they access information on the internet.  But accessing and memorizing content by skimming complex text is no substitute for actually reading and comprehending the text in the first place.  In college and career, our graduates will have to negotiate such text on their own.  They will have to follow an argument in all its subtlety and irony in pages upon pages of linear text. They will have to deduce authorial tone and intuit the implications of the architecture of the text to allow the writer to fully communicate with them.   


If reading is skimming, they are doomed.
6/25/2012

Thanks for the post to this page

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