Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Is Reading On The Web Really Reading?

Sunday's New York Times had an interesting article on a subject that my friends and I regularly debate: "just what it means to read in the digital age."
Children are clearly spending more time on the Internet. In a study of 2,032 representative 8- to 18-year-olds, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half used the Internet on a typical day in 2004, up from just under a quarter in 1999. The average time these children spent online on a typical day rose to one hour and 41 minutes in 2004, from 46 minutes in 1999.

The question of how to value different kinds of reading is complicated because people read for many reasons.
The issue that the article struggles with is whether the type of reading kids do on the Internet IS reading. As might be expected, literacy experts are divided on the subject. The most frequent complaints seem to be that reading on the Internet is impacting our "sustained, focused, linear attention."
Literacy specialists are just beginning to investigate how reading on the Internet affects reading skills . . . The only kind of reading that related to higher academic performance was frequent novel reading, which predicted better grades in English class and higher overall grade point averages.
Even proponents of book-reading agree that the Internet can make reading easier for persons with disabilities like dyslexia.
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.

“Kids are using sound and images so they have a world of ideas to put together that aren’t necessarily language oriented,” said Donna E. Alvermann, a professor of language and literacy education at the University of Georgia. “Books aren’t out of the picture, but they’re only one way of experiencing information in the world today.”
After reading the debate, I found that I agreed with this quote:
Even those who are most concerned about the preservation of books acknowledge that children need a range of reading experiences. “Some of it is the informal reading they get in e-mails or on Web sites,” said Gay Ivey, a professor at James Madison University who focuses on adolescent literacy. “I think they need it all.”
Read the entire article here.


Kristi said...

As the mother of two children under the age of 5, I take issue with the quote from Donna Alvermann that implies that sound and images aren't language. Language is not simply the formalized verbal or written utterances that we categorize as "English" or "Italian". We communicate with gestures and movement, with subtle biological signals (ever hear of pheremones?), with how we present ourselves and our belongings, and often, with what we do not say or present.

My 16 month old can communicate volumes with the pitch of his squeals and the shade of red that he turns when throwing a tantrum. He understands and responds to the antics of his 4 year old sister with rapt attention and giggles, and finds enormouse comedic value in people balancing strange objects on top of their head.

The ability to "read" and interpret the world around us extremely important in our every day lives, and should not be downplayed. At the same time, the ability to imagine fully-featured worlds and characters from just a few lines of text is also extremely important in our every day lives. Kids thrive with both kinds of stimulation.

Sorry to go on so long, when what I think I am saying is that I agree with your point of view that "They need it all" :)

Lynne said...

I agree with last post. They need it all. Loved your answer as to what you would do if you were a frog. Thanks for the giggle.