Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading
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Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading
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How Does Electronic Reading Affect Comprehension? | DMLcentral

How Does Electronic Reading Affect Comprehension? | DMLcentral | Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading |
Although electronic texts have been with us for many decades, in the past few years electronic reading has become increasingly popular.
GoogleLitTrips Reading List's insight:

An interesting take on the paper vs. digital reading conversation. John Jones author of this article references a Scientific American article by Ferris Jabr who argues that there are four distinct advantages that prove paper reading is superior to digital reading.


Followers of this Scoop-it blog, know that I've long emphasized that it is the text not the means of accessing the text that should be at the center of that particular discussion regarding literary reading. And, that educators who voice their own preferences for one over the other may be inadvertently alienating student readers who have established preferences for "the other" means of accessing literary reading text.


There being a long list of perceived advantages and disadvantages for both paper and digital reading, my question has always been, "Which is the most welcome format for the student REGARDLESS of my own particular preference? And by the way, though I do lean a bit towards preferring  digital over paper, particularly when I am reading with an academic intention, I feel equally at home with paper-based literary reading. 


So, when I began reading this article and discovered that it referenced an article from a respectable periodical and that that article took a very clear stand in favor of paper, I was quite interested in the possibility of discovering previously unconsidered advantages of paper-based reading. And, with that in mind, rather than assume that I might let my slight preference for digital reading bias my receptiveness to solid evidence that ought to be conceded to paper, I actually began to wonder about the possibility that IF there is merit in the argument for paper and against digital reading, that this might be more significant than my "let them access the text in their preferred media and concentrate on the text" stance.


Why? Because whether students prefer one or the other, the assessment structures for the English Language Arts Common Core Standards specifically require digital reading.


Could this requirement to take the assessment testing via computer which is not the same experience  to those who prefer paper's  advantages and who are more bothered by their perceived disadvantages of digital reading, cause an unrecognized significant increase in the test's margin of error considerations?


And, ironically, after having spent some time exploring the Smarter Balance" practice tests, I became quite concerned that the reading experience presented by Smarter Balance was significantly unlike the digital reading experience that I've come to appreciate a bit more than the paper reading experience. 


The "Smarter Balance" reading paridigm includes none of the advantages and many incredibly, ... well, I'll just say it, many really irritating disadvantages for attentive reading.


It is a reading experience that isn't an authentic representation of any reading experience at all. Nor does it employ technology in a way that reflects the best features of digital reading, those being features that streamline attentiveness via immediate definition access, those that integrate highlighting and note taking seamlessly, and those that make reviewing notes and highlights instantly accessible whether one is accessing them while reading or after reading while studying for an exam or reviewing the entirety of the story while constructing knowledge via project-based building, essay writing, and other demonstrations of understanding.


Jones' critque of Jabr's "conclusions" rest upon pointing out the narrowness of Jabr's scope of consideration. Admittedly I was pleased therefore to see that Jabr's blanket conclusions were being challenged and that Jones' critique was based upon legitimate questions of Jabr's analysis.


Yet, at the same time, I could not help but wonder if students who prefer paper-based reading and who have then not exerted the effort to go through the process of developing a comfort level sufficient to getting past the universal "temporary fall back" that occurs when the comfortable old modes of operation are replaced with the uncomfortableness of the new mode's "different way of doing things." 


This is not a new phenomenon.  It's called the "S-curve" effect. Productivity declines temporarily when one has to learn a new way of doing something that is replacing what appears to be a perfectily satisfactory way one had always done that task. 


We may not recall Mark Twain's turnaround regarding the invention of the typewriter. By the way, it is interesting to note that Mark Twain happened to have been quite intrigued with "new" technologies having been the first person to have a telephone in a personal residence and the first person to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher and who happened to go bankrupt investing in what he'd hope would be a revolution in printing industry technology.


Nevertheless, his early adoption was fraught with irritation at the typewriter's initial setback in his comfort, efficiency, and productivity.


As he put it,...


"The machine is at Bliss's, grimly pursuing its appointed mission, slowly & implacably rotting away at another man's chances for salvation.


I have sent Bliss word not to donate it to a charity (though it is a pity to fool away a chance to do a charity an ill turn), but to let me know when he has got his dose, because I've got another candidate for damnation. You just wait a couple of weeks & if you don't see the TypeWriter coming tilting along toward Cambridge with the raging hell of an unsatisfied appetite in its eye, I lose my guess."

- Letter to William Dean Howells, 25 June 1875



 Yet in the spirit of a true pioneer, undeterred by the inconvenience caused by the inevitable setback to his productivity and efficiency  caused by having to master a completely new skill set for writing, he did recognize  the typewriter's significant POTENTIAL advantages over handwriting early on when he had not yet mastered the typewriter. 


He demonstrated the kind of openess to the "new fangled" ideas that we might well hope our students adopt in the rapidly changing times they must be prepared for and the kind of openess to the "new fangled" ideas that we as educators ought to be receptive to in spite of their required discomforting "learning curves," when he wrote... 


I am trying to get the hang of this new fangled writing machine, but I am not making a shining success of it. However, this is the first attempt I have ever made & yet I perceive I shall soon & easily acquire a fine facility in its use...The machine has several virtues. I believe it will print faster than I can write. One may lean back in his chair & work it. It piles an awful stack of words on one page. Id don't muss things or scatter ink blots around. Of course it saves paper.



Of course, he did master the new fangled technology. He far surpassed his initial concept of the value-add that typewriters would bring to his writing once he made the transition. And, from that vantage point he was able to look back at pen and paper and see that in the long run the potential of pen and paper was far more limited than the new possibilities brought about via his surviving the transition to the typewriter.


In a later letter to Howells, his enthusiasm for typewriters was, ah, let's say great. He wrote, ...



...[children] what are they in the world for I don't know, for they are of no practical value as far as I can see. If I could beget a typewriter--- but no, our fertile days are over."



Now that's enthusiasm after an initial expression of serious dislike for typewriters. 


Though forever condemned by an overly simplistic understanding of their motives, the Luddites are often cited as the poster-persons for resistance to technology. In truth, their concern was about their concerns regarding the impact on unions and laborers brought about by more efficient productivity that technology might bring. There's room for empathy there.I would suggest that there are in fact many people today who understand the Luddites concern. It was not that the technology wasn't more efficient in time and cost, but that many people today are finding their skill sets just no longer viable in a world that changes so quickly. 


It's not unusual. Remember the discomfort expressed by many when word processors didn't make clicking sounds when the keys were hit?


Remember the discomfort when Apple stopped putting modems in their computers?


Inconvenience, some worthy of sympathy and some merely signaling a resistance to having to learn something new, often comes before the increased value-add made possible by change.


And, as long as this particular commentary has been, my point has been not to focus upon the legitmacy of the arguments made by Jabr in his assertion that paper beats rock,  ...oops, ....I mean paper beats digital.


My point was, without assuming that one is better than the other, what if there IS an important difference between the two modes of reading that is particularly prevalent during times when disruptive paradigm shifts are making radical changes in the way we do things? And, if there is, might those differences extend the margin of error in the  standardized testing results into the unacceptable range given the transition in place between the traditional paper-based skill set and the extremely varying degrees of achieving a level of comfort with the very different skill set of reading as a digital process?


I really hadn't thought about this in spite of the fact that I'm old enough to remember how microwaves were welcomed and unwelcome during the early days of microwave ovens and the discomfort and advantages of VCRs when they were new and with DVR when it disrupted VCRs, all of which brought new options to the exisiting modes of doing what it was that they did. Yet, they also brought a discomfort level that was for many such a challenge that they never did achieve the required new skills for reaping the benefit. 


The pace at which people adjust to new paradigms is incredibly personal. There are folks who never did learn to program their VCRs. And there are people who just don't feel a need to jump on every unproven band wagon that happens along; some until the "bugs have been worked out, and others because they've seen too many Edsels and Beta-max flops. And, as successful as Apple has always been some remember the Apple Newton a "not-yet-ready-for-primetime" predecessor to the iPod and today's smart phones and tablets.


Even some of us who are educators remember the resistance to spellcheckers and calculators. Some still are; others insist that students be held responsible for perfect spelling since it is so much easier to spell perfectly when spellcheckers can catch the first 98% of spelling issues. Today no employer will tolerate labor expenses involved with employees who do math "the old inefficent way." Is there an educator reading this commentary who does not know a veteran teacher who to this day still has a significant discomfort with searching for ways to integrate the powers of the internet into his or her classroom even though there are others who signficantly enhance and engage students in the same content at the same school? The problem is not that the old ways "ain't broken" but that like it or not they are obsoleting.


I have a hard time leaving my paper books behind and I doubt that the day will come soon that I'd even think about doing so. But, I also do not deny the inevitability of an ongoing digital disruption on every front far into the future.


But that's okay. I still have a deep love and appreciation for the experience of driving my wife's 5-speed manual transmission  Prelude "rocket ship". While at the same time appreciating my Nissan Pathfinder's automatic transmission, especially in the crazy traffic in the area where I do my driving. And, I am also perfectly aware of the fact that although I generally keep cars for 10-15 years, the next time I am in the market for a new car, my criteria won't be blazing speed and exquisite handling like the Prelude or comfort in traffic like the Pathfinder. My criteria will be dominated by my concern for sustainability of resources and room for my three adorable grandsons. 


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Google Lit Trips is the legal fictitious business name of GLT Global ED, an educational nonprofit

Marty Roddy's curator insight, November 22, 2013 11:17 PM

Interesting thoughts on reading.

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Students miss literature’s lesson

The first major piece of literature I ever taught at the high school level was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic American novel, “The Scarlet Letter.”
GoogleLitTrips Reading List's insight:

Just a few comments, but before making my thoughts on this article.


What the heck is going on in this article with the little number 1 that pops up to the left of the story as one hovers one's mouse pointer over each paragraph? So distracting that I attempted to hide the phenomenon by sliding the window as far off the screen as possible without losing the left edge of the story. 


The good news is that when I stopped "tracking my progress through the story with my pointer, I discovered that if I moved it to the RIGHT of the story the phenomenon ceased.


If you know what's happening a quick note to would be appreciated.



Now about the article...


I was attracted to the story by its headline. I've been concerned for quite some time that an unintended consequence of the intense interest in "testing, testing, testing" as an "harmless and/or accurate" method of assessing progress in literary reading might be the misdirection caused in student perception of literary reading's actual value.


In fact, in schools where such testing is at the center of all curricular development creating an "if-it-ain't-on-the-test-it-ain't-acceptable-in-your-lesson-plan" attitude, even the efforts of literature-loving English teachers can become seriously derailed causing a potential perfect storm of literary reading disengagement. 


Yet, my personal dilemma is that I'm absolutely in favor of holding both students and educators accountable for having learned the lessons in all curricular area.


I don't know what forces are behind the disappointment of the article's author. It might have been the excessive Pavlovian attention to testing that caused the traditional Pavlovian automaton reaction focused not on the story's relevance but on the test where actual literary value is insufficiently emphasized in favor of the rewards of passing or failing a test.


But, it might also have been a misfocusing of the way in which the novel was presented focusing more upon a scholarly dissection than upon relating the 21st century relevance of reading the story.


It appears to be quite clear that the article's author is a caring educator who also knows the "real value" of literary reading, but perhaps the assumption of reading a story of true value "now" and hoping that students will see the real-world relevance "later" is not the most effective strategy. 


We know that teaching vocabulary and grammar without a direct connection to the value of knowing vocabulary and grammar is significantly less effective than teaching those "more easily measurable skills" WITHIN a meaningful context. 


Why might we assume that teaching literature in a disconnected context where the immediate context is more focused upon the pending test or essay would be any more engaging, and for that matter long-lasting? 


Raise your hand if you've frequently had the experience of kids doing exceptionally well on fill-in the blank tests on topics such as the difference between "your, you're, and yore," "then and than, "it's and its" and yet in subsequent writing assignments, all  those right answers on the fill-in the blank tests showed no sign of having actually become part of their working understanding of the language.



Let me count the hands...

Wait, keep them up so I can get an accurate count...

Oh damn! there are too many hands, ...

Let's try this. Just hold up your hand if you've never seen this.

Ah! that's better. 

No one has never seen this phenomenon! (double negative intended!)


Perhaps intentionally building contempory connections to the novel's THEMES into the lessons throughout the study would shorten the distance between the students' known world, and the students' unknown world would place the study of the work more at the center of the students' zones of proximal development. (Oh Vygotsky! You were so wise!)


Here's a completely disconnected connection.


When I went to school it was still quite popular to do actual animal dissections in sophomore biology classes. We dissected dead "pickled and dried" Rattus Ratti;" the common black rat. Though I have very specific recollections about the scientific name and that our pickled and dried specimen was definitely quite yellow.


I had never seen a live rat, though I'd seen several live mice. And, I had no preceding love for rodents, so except for the "gross" factor of dissection, I had no particular repulsion caused by the experience. In fact, I must admit that there was, at least in my mind, a bit of curiousity satisfaction attained.


Now, (the disconnected connection), I wonder if instead of a pickled and dried rat, we had to watch a live fluffy bunny peacefully nibbling on carrots in its cage for a few months before we were told on a Friday that we'd be dissecting Fluffy on Monday. 



(A quick aside)

Even in those pre-PETA days, when we were actually later in the same course, expected to dissect a LIVE FROG. The outrage was such that at the last minute the order for the laboratory frogs raised specifcally for this purpose had to be canceled. 


When Mr. T. explained to us that we would be expected to pith the frogs by sticking a needle in the back of their skulls and scrambling their brains so that  "they'd be dead but their nervous systems would still be active so we could see their legs kick when we stimulated a nerve," I found myself unable to resist the opportunity to blurt out, "Well, I'd be pithed too if you stuck a needle in my skull!" Although I considered the play on "pissed "and "pithed" to be sublime and my classmates considered it hilarious, Mr. T was of another opinion and I found myself explaining my lack of good judgment to the assistant principal in short order.


Anyway, back to Fluffy and Hester Prynne, my point being that caring about pets or great stories is a precious joy, but dissecting them is a different thing altogether. 


There is no doubt that dissecting a great story or a loveable bunny can actually increase our appreciation for life and literature. But, in both cases, for those students who perhaps are not destined to take an existing caring about bunnies and books to the scholarly level of becoming veteranarians or  members of the academic literati, there is a danger of disengaging more students than we are engaging if the focus of academic dissection is not tempered by an understanding that continual emphasis upon why we should CARE is a prerequisite to a discovery of life-long relevance and engagement.


In addition to creating future English majors, we ought to remember that we ought to be creating life-long literary readers, many of whom will develop a life-long interest in literary reading as a direct result of the academic dissections they experienced in our classrooms, but many will abandon any interest they may have had in literary reading as a direct result of the very same academic dissections. It is a delicate line to walk as we contemplate our lesson designs.



So here's one trick that I found quite helpful in consistently connecting literary reading to the world my students actually cared quite a bit about.


As I began the study of a literary reading title, I'd set up a Google Alert ( for that title. 


You can set up alerts to automatically notify you about current internet postings on any topic you want. I used to demonstrate this with "To Kill A Mockingbird" with fair confidence that sometime during that unit, there would be news about Harper Lee, or theatre productions, or book bannings, or...all sorts of connected "news., and, I was never disappointed.


There would always be multiple contemporary postings that pre-set a tone that we WEREN'T just reading some old book that was so old and distant from anything students might care about that even the movie was in black and white! We WERE reading a book that even to this day is widely read and considered relevant for all sorts of contemporary reasons. 


By the way, I'd trash all those automated alerts at the end of the unit rather than harvest them for possible use the next year.  Why? Because last year's news is just that last years news. The following year I'd reestablish a new alert for the same title so that we'd only see absolutely contemporary references to the stories we would be reading.  


For what it's worth...



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Part of the takeover is the WIPE AWAY of fine...

Part of the takeover is the WIPE AWAY of fine... | Google Lit Trips: Reading About Reading |
“Part of the takeover is the WIPE AWAY of fine literature in which texting, short e-mails and media gossip replaces much of what constitutes essential reading.
GoogleLitTrips Reading List's insight:




The content of the large text is a bit controversial, though not the reason for the warning above. 


What is of concern is the reference at the very end of the large text to "The 421 Group thru Joseph Lally."


A Google search results in links to Joseph Lally's "softcore homoerotic photography." 


Enough said?




So why did I scoop this?


The large text content contains a rant that begins,


“Part of the takeover is the WIPE AWAY of fine literature in which texting, short e-mails and media gossip replaces much of what constitutes essential reading. The Silencers have a project and the term they code it with is WIPE AWAY. Not only do they wish to do away with literature that has substance and that challenges ordinary thinking, they wish to do away with how our minds once operated...."


The article takes a fairly aggressive attitude towards what the author perceives as an almost, if not real concern bordering on global conspiracy levels of paranoia. 


Of course, I want to jump to agree with anyone concerned about the declining interest in literary reading, but this article gave me moments to both pause and applaud and moments to cringe.


It got me thinking about an exercise in open mindedness that I always found fascinating for myself and for my students.


You might try it for yourself. And if you'd like to try it for your students using this particular exercise, you'll probably want to exorcize the last sentence.


Here's how it works...


1. Print out the large text.

2. get yourself three highlighters; a Green one, a Yellow one, and a Red one.

3. Use the GREEN highliter to mark any passages for which you find yourself in strong agreement.

4. Use the RED highliter to mark any passages for which you find yourself in strong disagreement.

5. Use the YELLOW highliter to mark any passages that challenge your existing opinions, but also give you pause to think about revisiting those opinions.

6. Give yourself some time to revisit those opinions.

7. Now re-read your GREEN and RED highlights as though you had used your YELLOW highlighter instead and repeat step 6 above.


Did you discover anything?


That's it. It's intriguing how having to pause and choose what to highllite and then what color to highlite with, forces one to pay deeper attention to what one is thinking about while reading rather than flying by the text letting our off the top of our heads first thoughts dominate the impact that the reading might have upon us.



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