Posted by: schooleducator | August 9, 2009

Raising Reading Junkies

I was talking with a mother of an 8th grade student the other day and she proudly shared that she had reached an agreement with her son regarding computer use at home. For every hour he was on the screen, he needed to read for an hour. “That’s pretty good, don’t you think?” she said. I asked her if he had responded with, “But, mom, I am reading when I’m on the computer.” He had not said that to her, but he easily could have, and he would have had a valid point. The amount of reading kids do on the computer is staggering, but it’s not the kind my parents used to make me do during the summer months. Instead, kids are fast mastering the skills of skimming, sorting, judging, synthesizing, and manipulating while they jump through screens, clicking at images and icons. They are reading junkies.

Just yesterday, I combed the App store with my son and marveled at the speed with which he analyzed the promise of various apps. He quickly read the app summaries provided, played with the demos, and made decisions on which free apps to download. He could cut to the quick much better than I can, and he enjoyed the “silly” mirror app as much as he grew animated at the Scrabble app, though he also realized that you have to pay $4.99 for Scrabble, so that was abandoned. The same approach is used when we look for a movie on Comcast for family movie night. He zips through the program guide, reads the short film summaries, and then narrows our choices down to 3 and we then vote as a family. My wife, on the other hand, still struggles to scroll through the screen headings and she is the one who has the head nod of a 7-year old novice piano player when she is pressing the buttons on the remote. She readily hands the reins to our son.

Our six-year old daughter is getting in on the game also. She picked up our flip video camera the other day and started experimenting with it. She pressed buttons until she figured out how to record. She is just starting to read and she recorded herself reading a book. She then listened to herself reading and caught awkward pronunciations and modified her reading and re-recorded herself. She did five takes before she was satisfied that she had gotten it right. Her brother then uploaded her recording onto our laptop and edited the movie with iMovie. They added a soundtrack and we sent the video to my parents.

We even convinced my mother to buy an iPhone. She is of the generation that does not use an ATM machine, so she was terrified. But we reassured her that she would have 24/7 online support from our son, who has already been on Skype to walk her through the Contacts page of the iPhone. She can’t stop giggling at the realization that she is so dependent on her 10-year old grandson. She already tossed the print manual that she bought at the Apple Store. She said, “the manual is a complete waste. I much prefer the Face to Face guidance I get on Skype.” Even she is thinking about knowledge acquisition in a different way!

I’m not saying we should have kids abandon books and traditional reading, but we do need to recalibrate our expectations and see how kids are reading every day in non-traditional, non-linear ways. When we make “rules” for the house about reading, we need to include the different paths that kids are creating with new technologies. Everything is connected in the world of our children and we can’t separate reading from learning. We still ask our children to read in the traditional way each day and thankfully they do. We read them stories before bed-time, but we also let them read during the day with new technologies. We also get to see how they are using new technologies so we can supervise and catch them when they start doing something they should not be doing.

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