"Technology," computer pioneer Alan Kay once said, "is anything that was invented after you were born."
Isn't that the truth? If it has always been part of life as we know it, then it isn't considered technology. For example, the ink pen was once considered technology and now it is just a common, everyday, writing utensil.
There has been quite a buzz lately around a new gadget that was released this week- Kindle. Newsweek reports, "Jeff Bezos believes he can improve upon one of humankind's most divine creations: the book itself. Kindle, an electronic device that Bezos hopes will leapfrog over previous attempts at e-readers and become the turning point in a transformation toward Book 2.0." Well, like many others- I have my doubts. While I do believe Book 2.0 is a concept whose time is near, this devise is too 20th Century like to really take hold.
Benefits of Book 2.0
There are definite benefits to having an electronic reader --possibly an innovation that could revolutionize a near perfect invention that has stood the test of time. Imagine the impact such a device could have on the developing world. Books are costly to print and more costly to move.This kind of disruptive technology could lower the cost of transporting the best books to the developing world and also lower the cost of ideas/books coming to us from the developing world. Additionally, in these times of angst about global warming, Book 2.0 concepts present a huge opportunity to reduce the negative impact on the environment by changing the process of producing a "book" as we now know it. Or how about the fact that knowledge is changing and expanding at unbelievable rates; many textbooks are outdated almost as soon as they hit the shelves. Medical textbooks need to be updated every year and electronic versions would address this issue nicely.
However, online readers like Kindle have been around for awhile and have not gained popularity. Why? Because new technologies should result in doing things very different from the way it is currently being done. Just taking an analog book and making the text digital ignores the potential of using the Web as a new way of reading. The innovation has to include taking a linear medium and morphing it into a divergent, spiral, hyper, nonlinear form, making use of all the Web has to offer.
Americans are Reading Less
Recently, the Teacher Leaders Network (my favorite learning community) had a conversation around a new study out related to young people losing a love for reading. According to National Endowment for the Arts, "This study shows the startling declines, in how much and how well Americans read, that are adversely affecting this country's culture, economy, and civic life as well as our children's educational achievement."
Among the key findings:
Americans are reading less - teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time compared with other age groups and with Americans of previous years.
- Less than one-third of 13-year-olds are daily readers, a 14 percent decline from 20 years earlier. Among 17-year-olds, the percentage of non-readers doubled over a 20-year period, from nine percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.
- On average, Americans ages 15 to 24 spend almost two hours a day watching TV, and only seven minutes of their daily leisure time on reading.
Americans are reading less well – reading scores continue to worsen, especially among teenagers and young males. By contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved.
- Reading scores for 12th-grade readers fell significantly from 1992 to 2005, with the sharpest declines among lower-level readers.
- 2005 reading scores for male 12th-graders are 13 points lower than for female 12th-graders, and that gender gap has widened since 1992.
- Reading scores for American adults of almost all education levels have deteriorated, notably among the best-educated groups. From 1992 to 2003, the percentage of adults with graduate school experience who were rated proficient in prose reading dropped by 10 points, a 20 percent rate of decline.
The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications – Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas.
- Nearly two-thirds of employers ranked reading comprehension "very important" for high school graduates. Yet 38 percent consider most high school graduates deficient in this basic skill.
- American 15-year-olds ranked fifteenth in average reading scores for 31 industrialized nations, behind Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, among others.
- Literary readers are more likely than non-readers to engage in positive civic and individual activities – such as volunteering, attending sports or cultural events, and exercising.
Deep Dark Confessions
While we are on the topic of books and reading, I have a confession to make. It is a dark confession for a lifetime educator- are you ready? I do not enjoy reading books. There- I said it. I never have. I suppose it was because the love of reading wasn't instilled in me as a child. I didn't read my first book cover to cover until age 26. Maybe I lack the love of books because my teachers didn't mold and shape me in that direction? Though, I do remember in the 4th grade- "James and the Giant Peach" being read to us and being enthralled. I have since bought several collector copies of the book, however, I associate that memory with storytelling, more than reading.
For the record, I do read. I usually have several nonfiction authors going at a time. I read on every plane flight, and I fly a lot. However, give me a choice between surfing the Web and my aggregator and reading a book- and the first will win out every time. Books are too heavy (I have little hands) and too long! I am always skipping and skimming and then making myself go back and read what I skipped at the end, much like you make yourself take vitamins or do exercise. I know it is good for me, but there is no love affair. When I read, I read like a person who is starving, but if I sit for more than an hour reading, it becomes torture. I survive with lots of stops and starts.
Don't get me wrong, I celebrate books and literacy. I collect paintings of children being read to, they are up all over my home. Unconsciously, I have befriended some of the most voracious readers around; all my friends read and tell me about what they are reading. And just like in school, I can listen to a discussion about the novels and if given a test make an A. I so much believe in reading that for 15 years I only gave books as gifts at any child's birthday party. I have 11, count them, 11- 5x4 ft bookshelves in my home full of books. My favorite scene in "Beauty and the Beast" is when Beast gives Belle the library. I am a regular customer at Amazon. I'm in love with the ideas found in books and the thoughts they have to share. I always make it a point to visit the bookstores and adore picking out books to read. It is just when it comes to actually reading a book, I have to make myself do it. I always think, there has to be a better way to unlock what is inside.
Childhood and Reading
I knew it was important to instill a love of reading in my children. When my children were born we ditched the TV. We would read and write stories and read some more. As a result I have acquired an extensive children's literature library which I look forward to sharing with my grandchildren. We did everything that book lovers should do to help nurture a love of reading in our kids, and it paid off, they all read early. However, I still produced one daughter who reads like I do, only nonfiction and just when needed to acquire information. Her medical career requires her to read to keep current and she copes by going to Starbucks and reading there among people, a preference I attribute to her social learning style. The other three children are all avid readers.
Changing Demographic, Changing Times
So here is my theoretical explanation of why:
1. I am, like many children raised in poverty, an auditory learner. Storytelling and dramatic, loud conversations were a major part of my upbringing. Therefore, learning in a storytelling format feels most comfortable. I learn so much through podcasts, plays, and movies.
2. I also learn best through experience. I like doing and becoming part of what I am learning. Many children of different cultures, English language learners, and children of poverty learn this way as well. Learning by doing is becoming more and more the preferred learning style of children in the 21st Century.
3. We currently have a changing demographic of students. Demographers predict that by 2020 minorities will be the majority in America. Poverty is on the rise. The number of children who have been immersed in mentally stimulating reading environments through technology is also increasing. Kids have trained their brains to learn through active engagement because of video games and websites that require them to "do" something while reading. It has become their preferred processing strategy. We all have preferred processing strategies. For example, you always begin brushing your hair on the same side and always tie the same shoe first. It becomes your unconscious preference. We develop established rituals to learning as well.
4. Teachers have trained their brains to feel most comfortable reading through a traditional means, so there is a disconnect between an educator's personal schema and what they are seeing in their students. The natural assumption is kids today do not like reading or are not reading as much. When in actuality it might simply be that they are not reading in ways we recognize or legitimize (books). Maybe we just need to update the ways in which we offer reading experiences. All kids still love stories, many just do not relate to the 20th Century reading formats because the synapses of their brains have been "wired" or trained to read in a very different way. Possibly, reading in a more traditional means holds no real excitement as it just takes too long. Hyperlinked reading experiences are very different from linear reading experiences.
5. We will find exceptions to the rule. There will be kids, like mine, who had their learning experiences and preferences trained in traditional means and still worship the printed page. But there will be just as many who are developing their learning style at the foot of the "flickering blue parent" (television and video games) and need something more.
It's a Changing World
We need to understand that in a changing world, education can no longer stand still. If we want to remain relevant in the lives of our learners then we will need to use strategies and materials that fit their learning styles, not our own. Techno-constructivist methodology is the educational language today's learners understand and respond to best. Help provide opportunities for them to read challenging, rich, descriptive language and the classic authors we all love in venues that allow for active engagement and full involvement. I predict that when classrooms change to engage students in the reading process we will see that same sense of wonderment toward reading in kids today that we saw in students of classes gone by, the love of reading and learning is still there, it just needs to be captured through more modern techniques. We need to reinvent the book.
I realize electronic reading (laptops) will never replace curling up with a good book in bed. PDAs are better for that. <smile> Seriously, I am not suggesting we stop your love affair with books or that as educators we not offer books to our students in an effort to cultivate a love for reading. What I am suggesting is that schools not stop there, but rather they offer choice so that all learning styles and all learners are served in today's changing classrooms.
So, I am wondering, am I alone? Are there others out there who believe in reading and promote all that is good about books but secretly hope that the next version of the book will be one that offers a digital twist? If so, please share your thoughts. I promise to read and enjoy doing so.