Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Future of Reading?

When I think about reading, I think about a book.  I don't think about a Kindle, an iPad, or my computer.  But that is what reading is turning into for the students we will be teaching.  Is their concept of reading going to be completely digital?  Is this necessarily a good thing?

The Common Core State Standards seem to think it is.  The Smarter Balanced assessment, which aims to test standards designed by the common core, is presented to students in a digital form.  All reading passages, math problems, and audio segments are presented on the computer.  While most media and information we get these days is online, I can't help but think about how a different format makes you think differently.  We recently read an article about the extra cognitive resources needed to process electronic material.  With all test questions on the computer, how many cognitive resources are left for students to focus on the test?

One solution would be to prepare students for this format throughout the year by presenting information in a mainly digital format.  As a future science teacher, I suggested having students learn to read material on a computer.  But how can I really teach this if I haven't mastered this skill myself?  While I enjoy reading some material on the computer, scientific articles are still the one thing I would rather print out and mark up with a traditional pen and highlighter.  After four years of college, I still cannot get the same value from reading an article on the computer as I can from reading it on paper.

So why would I ask my students to read scientific material in digital form?  Is it for the test?  Is it really the future of all reading?  Ultimately, I want my students to be prepared for tests that they will need to take throughout their K-12 career.  But beyond that, I want my students to be prepared citizens for life outside of the classroom.  Which method is better for personal preparation:  digital or paper-based?  


  1. Rachael, I really agree with your opening statement about thinking of reading and a good ol' fashion book comes to mind. As I kept reading I thought about the first question you pose about the cognitive processes occurring while taking an online test. I know I personally prefer pen and paper tests since I can physically work through the test by writing on the pages. Also, I feel less overwhelmed since the entirety of the test is laid out before me, I can pick up everything in my bare hands. Although I know the computer tests have the same amount of questions and same period of time in which to complete them, I get overwhelmed by the whole thing since it was all "in the computer" and out of sight. This is how I felt when I took the GRE a few years ago right when they made the switch to being completely computer-based. Was I less focused because of this overwhelming computer place in front of me? I'd like to think so.

    I'm also still a pen and paper note taking gal, so this program has been an interesting transition since so many assignments and notes are online. It's definitely been an adjustment to figure out how to transfer my cognitive processes into the things I type on my computer instead of always writing them down.

    Great set of questions you've posed here!

  2. Rachael, I like the point you brought up about preparing students for life outside the classroom as well. I think although we are heading in a very "digital direction," there are still a lot of things done by hand. It's also interesting to think about the different skill sets you use for computer vs. paper. Will not having the skills to do these activities on paper hurt our students somehow? You post made me start to think about the differences and if there are better skills in one over the other.

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  4. Rachael! I really like how you mentioned the part about the increased use of cognitive processes. I like the connection that it makes to EDUC 606 where we learned about how our working memory can only hold so much information at a time and that in order for us to free up space in our working memories, we have to practice skills to the point of automaticity. This is precisely why I agree with your point in preparing students from early on and exposing them to computer-based tasks. It's weird that I consider myself to be more digitally proficient than an average person, but I too prefer to read paper books. The experience of actually feeling the paper and flipping the pages is more familiar and comfortable to me than staring at a screen for hours. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Rachael,

    I appreciate your evaluation of the computer-based SBA format. While I understand that making the SBA computer-based will allow students to encounter dynamic test items, such as animated visuals, I wonder how well aligned a computer assessment is with the typical American student's learning.

    I am struggling as well with this push to transfer to digital reading myself, preferring to having a codex, where I can fill through quickly to find what I'm looking for, where I can highlight, where I can physically write in the margins... This is something that I look forward to having more discussions about and to gaining experience of both types of practice in the classroom this fall.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  6. Rachael,

    I think the questions you pose are central to how we will adapt to learning in the 21st century. While I certainly prefer reading a physical, tangible book over reading digitally, I can't help but wonder what life for the "digital native" will be like in years to come. Further, it is also troubling for me to ponder the implications of teaching to a digital assessment.

    It does beg the question that if students are people assessed digitally that the should have ample time to practice tests in a digital format. I think that ethically, regardless of our personal opinions, the professionally ethical decision is to prepare them to succeed on the format. I think that speaking in reference to society at large, this poses tremendous repercussions for schools with minimal digital access.

    For instance, it was difficult to feel comfortable with the options we were given during our hypothetical situation in class on Wednesday. To connect limited technological options with high stakes testing is a recipe for disaster. To me, it seems fundamentally unfair to assess a student in a format in which he/she has had limited experience. Therefore, I think in this context, your question about preparation for the SBA holds even more weight. I can only hope that at this stage, that resource allocation improves with the demands of digitally mandated tests. However, at this point, I'm scared to say that I'm too optimistic. Time will tell!

  7. From the cognitive scientists's point of view, Do whatever you can to get kids to read. Books expose children to more facts and and to a broader vocabulary than virtually any other activity, and persuasive data indicate that people who read for pleasure enjoy cognitive benefits throughout their lifetime. Following Willingham, I don;t believe it is quite the case that nay book is fine "as long as they're reading." Naturally, if a child has a history of resisting reading, I'd be happy is ze (notice my use of the gender neutral pronoun) picked up any book at all. But, from my perspective, I need to feel it, touch it while I Talk to the Text." That's why I've printed out every single article this summer. I'm an "old school" historical, one who has thumbed his way through thousands of 17th c. manuscripts. It just doesn't seem equitable to assess students on high-stakes standardized tests via digital devices such as computers when so many of the digitally illiterate.