Reading and Obsession

Happy November everyone. Have you recovered from the time change yet? I think I have. I’ve been thinking a lot about reading this month. This post is not our usual format, I’m highlighting a new literacy report and sharing my thoughts because it has really made me think. Stay with me though, there is new geeky product talk eventually, I promise.

Someone once said that there is a fine line between a hobby and an obsession. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about online gaming and Second Life. After I picked myself up off of the floor when she told me she’d never heard of Second Life, we talked about how much time people spend online gaming, chatting, and on sites like Facebook etc. I’ve heard that some people spend more than 30 hours per week. My friend felt that anything done for that amount of time is obsessive. For the sake of comparison, in 2004, Statistics Canada reported that Canadians aged 12-17 watch an average of 12 hours of television per week. Canadians over 18 watch between 20 and 24 hours of television per week. My friend and I eventually came to the conclusion that obsession begins with neglect of the rest of your life in favour of the all consuming activity. Well, BRAINblog reader, I’ve been doing some navel gazing because of all of this. I’m a 1-2 books per week reader, I don’t think I hit 30 hours of reading every week but I bet hit that amount occasionally. Am I obsessed? I dunno. I eat right, try to exercise, get my work done, spend time with family and friends (Holy cow! Boring, but you get my drift). I don’t have a Gollum-like pallor from staying inside reading (although I gotta admit, I think some of my books are precious). So, jury’s out. Whaddya think – is reading that much unhealthy??

Reading stayed on my radar because of a new report I learned about this week – from the National Endowment for the Arts in the States, it’s called To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence. The NEA calls the data in the report, “…simple, consistent and alarming”. They indicate that reading ability and the habit of reading regularly has declined in college students in the States;  I suspect the same is probably true of our students. There are definite correlations between poor reading skills and “lack of employment, low wages and fewer opportunities for advancement.” According to the report, “Significantly worse reading skills are found among prisoners than in the general adult population. And deficient readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in volunteerism and voting.” The ABC Canada Literacy Foundation reports similar finding in a survey reported in a document called Learning a Living. People with better literacy and numeracy skills do better economically. People in a BC Literacy program increased their literacy and reduced their dependence on welfare support significantly.

All of this makes sense to me, but it got me thinking about our traditional definitions of literacy. The Millenials, those digital natives and our students, may not be all be readers but we hear that they do like to play online games and that a good portion of their social lives is conducted online. Do we know if the people who don’t read well play online games and chat and use social networks? We may think that online activities are nothing but time wasters, but I challenge you to try an online game or to try to get around in Second Life. It isn’t easy, problem solving and reasoning skills are required. No, you don’t have to read a lot of prose to figure out an online game, but you do have to use your brain. Notwithstanding the correlations between poor reading and poor economic prospects, and no doubt those findings are scary, I’d just like to know where gaming and online proclivities fit into the equation. Perhaps our literacy studies aren’t asking all of the questions that need to be asked. Literature is starting to be available about the educational benefits of gaming, we should be looking at it, I think. Go to Academic Search Premiere on the BRAIN and use the keywords “gaming” and “literacy” to search and see what I’m talking about. Maybe the Millenials have a new way of learning and if their literacy really is declining as these studies indicate, then we need to figure out their learning styles. If expecting our students to read lots of printed text is not a good way to teach and engage them, then what is? I’m sure other people are asking and answering my questions.  I have a teacher friend who tells me that diversity in learning styles is big in education PD these days. I’ll be looking for the research.   I have been doing some research with a colleague in an attempt to look at the online skills and knowledge of our own Mohawk students. I’ll keep ya posted. In the meantime, check out those reports & tell us what you think.

OK, finally, one geeky technology note. Amazon has released a new e-book reader, it’s called Kindle. It’s about the size of a hardcover book and weighs less than a paperback. It features a cool interface that imitates the printed page very well. Wireless connectivity works like a cell phone and can connect & download books anywhere, no need for wifi hotspots. The Kindle store carries 110 of 112 bestsellers at Amazon available for purchase and download. It lets you make annotations, you can read Word and other document formats and you can also download blogs and some online newspapers. That’s the good news, light, portable, easy to read, lots of choice – what, you ask, is the bad news? Well, for starters, it’s $400. Books have to be purchased through the online Kindle store and, while they are less expensive than traditional hardcover format, the Kindle e-format cannot be read by any other device. The newspaper subscriptions are cheap – but they’re charging for blog subscriptions! Yes, blogs that I can read online for free, I’d have to pay to read on a Kindle reader! Not to mention that you can only choose from their list of pre-selected blogs. And, they’re also charging for downloading of Word or other documents. No, I am not making this up, charges for things that are free elsewhere! No wonder e-books won’t take off – no one can figure out how to provide them. Won’t it be great when students can buy a portable reader and download all of their textbooks easily? The less expensive books would offset the cost of the reader, not to mention the convenience. I’ll be checking out the Kindle if I see one in a store but I can’t imagine buying one yet. Would you?

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