Friday, August 8, 2008

Reading the Web

In a recent posting on his blog, Will Richardson reacts to Nicholas Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” I was struck by Richardson’s question for educators: How is reading on the web changing the way we teach reading skills and strategies? He points out, “…what I do know is that very few schools are thinking deeply about what this all means in terms of reading development and practice.”

This is the very same issue that Motoko Rich raised in last Saturday’s edition of the New York Times. Although her article, “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” at times seems to declare that online reading is not educationally relevent, she does point out that the types of critical reading and thinking skills necessary to read on the web – “locating information quickly and accurately, corroborating findings on multiple sites” – are skills that are applicable to multiple areas of study. Unfortunately, as both Richardson and Rich have pointed out, schools do not seem to be catching on. Rich writes,
“Web readers are persistently weak at judging whether information is trustworthy. In one study, Donald J. Leu, who researches literacy and technology at the University of Connecticut, asked 48 students to look at a spoof Web site about a mythical species known as the “Pacific Northwest tree octopus.” Nearly 90 percent of them missed the joke and deemed the site a reliable source.

Some literacy experts say that reading itself should be redefined. Interpreting videos or pictures, they say, may be as important a skill as analyzing a novel or a poem.”
Instead of blocking and banning Internet use in our classrooms, 21st century teachers must learn to embrace this new frontier of reading. This means teaching our students to be critical readers and consumers of media. In reality, this is no different from the skills that we have been teaching our students. It is not necessarily a change in content; it is a change in where and how we apply the skills of critical literacy. Practically speaking, this means that English teachers must broaden our definition of what constitutes a “text.”

In order to prepare our students to live, work, and interact in an increasingly connected world, we must include reading web-based materials in our curriculum. If we continue to think that the only texts worthy of study are those that are bound together with glue, we are not only doing a disservice to our students, but we are also dooming our profession. Instead, we must include the reading and writing of blogs, wiki sites, and social networking applications into our curriculum. We can use these new technologies to open the doors the present as well as the past. Students and teachers can access annotated Shakespeare texts online as well as contemporary blog reactions to such traditional texts. Not only will utilizing Web 2.0 technologies engage our students, but they will also help them become more competent readers in the world they already dwell in – the world of Web 2.0.
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