08 November, 2009

what does 'reading' really mean?

Interesting discussion over at OZ_TL regarding visual literacy, techno-literacy, reading books vs. reading text on screens.

to READ –verb (used with object)
to look at carefully so as to understand the meaning of (something written, printed, etc.): to read a book; to read music.
read. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved November 08, 2009, from website:

The discussion began with an observation that 'skills for reading from print (on paper) are different to those for reading from a screen and we need to teach both. Research is telling us that kids need really good traditional literacy skills before they can read well from a screen' (Barbara Combes, Edith Cowan University, Perth).
Then a young teacher from outside Australia responded with a bit of a dismissal that prompted many learned teachers to respond.

He suggested that his generation had no problems reading and interpreting text from a screen - he has several screens open on his desktop, and he constantly flicks between them. He said that he doesn't read everything on the page, but that's what his generation is about. I'd say already he has a problem understanding what the act of reading means. To read means to look at something printed, displayed, etc in our language system carefully so as to form an understanding of its meaning. If the writer didn't want the reader to read so much he or she would have uploaded less words. Each word counts towards the reader's comprehension of the writer's intent, or to the formation of the reader's own interpretation. If you view less than the whole you cannot gain full understanding.

Many teachers responded to his argument using sound pedagogical examples, including that TLs need to invest a lot of time into teaching techno-literacy because so many students believe everything they view online. That is, they view it and accept it instead of reading and applying judgement. If a website or other online medium has not been created according to W3C standards, then the viewer already has a barrier to comprehension if he or she is flicking between screens because they won't readily see the important information.

So I responded from a writer's viewpoint, and yes, a few teachers responded to my response with cheers. I like technology applications rather a lot, but I would never suggest that the container is more important than the content.

My response: The thing is, if 'your' generation is about not reading everything on the page, you are going to miss out on some incredibly creative use of language - which is the difference between stories/poetry and a business report. If you skim you may get the gist of a story, but not its nuances and subtle pleasures. And if you are a teacher and endeavouring to teach children how to write creatively - there's a problem. Similarly, by skimming readers may miss important textual clues which would aid comprehension and support their development of further knowledge (as in the fake websites examples). Certainly students need to be educated to be capable of one day understanding business reports, as important decisions are made on the strength of them. You can use all the tools to create a digital story, present it with visuals, use stop animation, tell all your mates about it on Facebook or twitter, but the actual story should have substance. I don't believe all stories/poems have to be in book form. The story matters to me - whether that's projected on the side of a building, written in chalk on the footpath or downloaded on a kindle. The technology needs to be used effectively to support the content. I wouldn't say 'I'm going to write a story for a mobile phone screen'. I'd think about the story I wanted to write, then consider the best medium for presentation. And as the technology container affects how/where the content is communicated, then TLs are well placed to educate students in understanding this.

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