Posts Tagged 'future'

The Future of Reading: Thinking Ahead to the SLJ Summit

It’s already time for another conference – the School Library Journal Leadership Summit will take place over the next couple of days. I was surprised and thrilled to be invited to this event. As a doctoral student in Language and Literacy Education, the conference theme “The Future of Reading” is of great interest to me on a number of levels.  Here are some of the questions and items that are on my mind right now, as I look through the exciting program, preparing for the conference and all the conversations we will have.

What does it mean to read online?

One of my main questions is, what does it mean to read online?  Although books are still important, it is clear that more and more of the reading we do is online – often filled with hyperlinks, dynamic content, and images. How do we read these emerging, often complex, genres?  I was thrilled to see that Don Leu, one of the leaders of the New Literacies Research Team, will be talking with us during the summit.  I heard another member of the New Literacies Research Team, Julie Coiro, speak last year about her research into online reading. I remember her talking about the way the dynamic and linked content can lead readers to be more active in interacting with the texts.  I also remember thinking (Coiro may have said this, actually) that this reading was almost a new form of co-authorship.  It’s nothing new to realize that our own experiences and traits as readers transact with texts, but online genres seem to invite active reading in new ways. And so, the question becomes, how to we properly read online texts?  Does that question even make sense?  Are we thinking about the different strategies readers need to evaluate and comprehend online texts? Of course, librarians have been thinking and teaching about evaluating all kinds of sources for years.  But I can’t help wondering if the preponderance of online reading that many students do leads to new questions and strategies we are only beginning to consider.

For example, Bud the Teacher blogged an excerpt from a post called the Rhetoric of the Hyperlink which offers some pretty amazing discussions of what hyperlinks are and how they function.  There is also a bit about the Kindle in the piece. As we become more and more accustomed to seeing different online texts, (while at the same time they become more and more complex), there is a lot to think about in terms of the way we read and write.

With changes in reading, what happens to writing?

The talk of co-authoring through linked reading and learning about hyperlinks reminds me that we cannot separate reading from writing. So, I am excited to see reading as the central topic for the summit, but to me the future of reading ties directly to writing.  I’ll admit that, in the past, I thought that reading was the primary skill and writing followed.  But after some study and spending a lot of time writing myself and with students, I see that the process works both ways.  Reading and writing are closely aligned and inform one another. I was reminded of a study I read called Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Carnegie Corporation. This report is linked here, in addition to others from the Carnegie Corporation. The SLJ Summit will also feature Andrés Henriquez, who works on the Carnegie Council for Advancing Adolescent Literacy.  I hope he will be sharing some of the insights from these reports and others in his talk.

What concerns about intellectual freedom emerge with new ways of reading?

With all the exciting aspects about the future of reading, I also have concerns.  I am sure there will be lots of talk at the summit about gadgets and apps that are intended for reading of different kinds.  I’ve been watching the discussions about many of the different e-readers with some interest. The discussions about ownership of digital materials and DRM are fascinating.  I also watched a talk by Ted Striphas brought some issues to light that I had not considered before.  (He has since released some written versions of this work, including E-Books: No friends of free expression.) Most interesting to me were the way data are collected from Kindles and the legal status of that data. I love the idea of social reading – to me that is such an incredible benefit of reading with technology. The chance to make reading more transparently and globally social is exciting. But, at the same time, Striphas’s arguments bring up some important concerns about privacy for readers, which I think we as librarians should consider. I haven’t thought through his arguments fully, but I hope we keep these concerns in mind as we continue to develop e-reading collections. How do our ongoing commitments to intellectual freedom wind through these new devices, genres, and reading practices?

What about the book?

In closing, I’ve got to admit that my own thoughts on reading have changed a lot over the past few years.  I’ll admit, I have been one of those people who cherish the physical product of a book – one of the “I-love-to-cuddle-up-with-a-book,”  “Books-have-such-a-great-smell,”  “The-tactile-experience-can’t-be-replaced” people.  (In some ways I still am). I’ll admit that I didn’t see the wrenching away of the ideas in the book from it’s physical form coming as quickly as it has. Well, maybe it hasn’t completely separated, but, as I flipped through the new issue of Real Simple yesterday, I came to a page that signaled to me that something big has changed.  Real Simple does regular features on “New Uses for Old Things” and they devoted a full page spread to how to repurpose books.  These involved cutting out words to make new sentences for an activity at the holiday kids table, ripping out pages and forming them into cones to look like festive trees, transforming the pages into bows for presents, and hollowing out pages to make an unexpected gift box.

(Image from Real Simple, November 2010)

One the one hand, I thought about all the kids who do not have books in their homes (not to mention strained library collection budgets) and thought – Don’t cut up your books for holiday decor – Donate the books to a library or charity! Please! But I also think that this page in Real Simple, a somewhat mainstream family magazine, says a lot about the role of books in our lives.  It is not that we don’t love or need books anymore, but their physical container isn’t as important as it once was. Books are not necessarily the cherished objects they used to be.  The content and the container are really beginning to fracture.  Now, we can read comics on our iPads, books on our smartphones, the list goes on…(I’m not sure what will happen to the picture book, but if you believe the New York Times people aren’t reading them as much anymore anyway, so perhaps it doesn’t matter). (And, for the record, I have issues with the NYT story, but I am not sure the reporting is wrong).

So, it should be an exciting few days to talk more about these issues and keep pushing toward the future of reading and the role librarians and libraries will play. I can’t wait to hear what others are thinking about. There are many other excellent speakers that I’ll be blogging and tweeting about this week. The conference hashtag is #sljsummit10.  I hope you’ll join in these exciting discussions.

(Now I am wondering how many of you actually made it to the end of this post, and how many are off following hyperlinks…)


On Their Turf: Making the Change To Student Blogging

This semester I’m teaching two courses for prospective teachers – Writing Pedagogy (4th-8th grade) and Language and Literacy (PreK – 5th grade). I’ve never taught the middle grades course and have taught the elementary course just once before. I’ve also never taught two groups at the same time – much less different courses (although I’ll admit that some of the content overlaps). Needless to say, here in week 2 it is already an adventure.

I am experimenting with many new approaches and activities in these courses this semester. I’ll be sharing more about these as time goes on, but for the moment I want to talk about blogging.

First, a bit of history. My students write weekly in my courses (after all, they are writing courses), and post their thoughts electronically. I read every word they write, and try to respond to each post. I enjoy the chance to keep up with their thinking this way, but after three semesters reading discussion threads in a course management system (CMS), I was tired. I wanted to make a change but just hadn’t done it for a number of reasons, until my university changed the CMS this year. One of the first things I found out about this new system was that students in my courses would automatically be wiped out of the system at the end of each semester. I guess this was supposed to make my life easy – hey, I didn’t even have to copy and reload the content (since, of course, I would be using the same content over and over and over again, right?) Just add a new set of names and away we go. (a joke.)

With the old system, students had access to courses for as long as the professor left us in the system (often years). Considering that I’ve been a student myself in graduate school for 5 years now, you can imagine how much information I had access to through that system. I referred to it often, even though I had downloaded much of the content elsewhere.

So, the new system and the default to purge students each semester bothered me, but I wasn’t sure why. After all, students could download content just as I had, as long as they did it before the end of the semester. What was the problem? Then, I figured it out. Wiping my students out of the courses represented something completely against my growing philosophy of education. In the past year or two, I’ve realized that my job as a teacher educator is not to cram my students’ heads full of all the knowledge they will need to be a great teacher for their entire (hopefully lengthy) careers. Instead, my job is to offer them the chance to engage with important experiences and ideas, to help them get to know themselves as writing teachers (both as teachers who write and as teachers of writing), and to start them on a path where they can continue to learn about language, literacy, and teaching long after my course is in the rear view mirror. As I told them on the first day of classes, the best teachers are learners, always.

Erasing my students from my course once the semester is over, then, didn’t line up with my ideas about my job as a teacher educator. I wanted to give them ideas and experiences that continued with them into the future. So, considering all of this, I made many changes this semester (basically circumventing the course management system in most regards). The one that has been the most obvious (and exciting) is the switch from posting their weekly writing on the course management system to posting on student blogs. I encouraged each of my students to start their own blogs. I gave them a range of sites to choose from – blogger, wordpress, posterous, edublogs, and the students also used tumblr of their own initiative – and had them link their blogs to our course wiki.

Why do blogs make a difference? Now, when I read my students’ weekly posts, instead of reading paragraph after paragraph on the gray, bland course management system screen, I go to each students’ personal writing space. Many of the students have chosen interesting, colorful designs for their blogs. Some have added photos and quotes. (By the end of the semester, they will each develop a blogroll as well, as part of creating their learning networks). Even at this early stage in the semester, each blog is already unique.

I realized last night that I was having the same reaction to the old CMS that my students often have toward textbooks. We know what a textbook looks like – it has a genre all its own, no matter how hard textbook publishers try to change it. The content, the pictures, the writing can be wonderful, but we still can spot a textbook a mile off, and get that same revulsion. My students were writing great things over the last semesters, but dealing with the system still made me impatient while reading their work. The container just didn’t appeal to me. It was a disservice to the writing my students were producing.

Now, reading their blogs, I feel like I am personally connected to each of my students – I am “on their turf” when I comment. I am the visitor in their writing space, not them the visitors in my CMS space, and I like that. I hope that this practice will encourage them to develop an online presence for themselves as writing teachers, as well as a web presence for their classrooms and students in the future. I also feel like their writing is improved. Is that just because I am more attentive? Are they really doing a better job? It’s hard to say just yet. But with their blogs, they have a chance to build their writing and work over time. And, it won’t disappear come summer semester.

I’ll admit, it was a scary risk to take to leave the security of the CMS behind for blogs (and the semester is still young), but it seems to be paying off so far. Sometime soon I’ll share my students’ thoughts on blogging. If you blog with your students (at any level), I hope you’ll share your thoughts and impressions. Or, I wonder, what have you done to give students their own educational turf?

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