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The New “Reading a Book”

Here’s your challenge: try to get through an entire day in a school without someone telling you kids’ attention spans are not what they used to be. Inevitably, this comment is followed by a string of lamentations of what cannot be done in schools any more because kids will lose interest and get sucked into whatever is going on in another browser window, on their phone, outside the classroom window…

If you are reading this, you likely read other online sources of information. And maybe, for you, reading a book resembles Nicole Cliffe’s experience. She tried to read a book like she used to, you know, before iPads and things. I laughed a lot reading her account, not just because the leaps in her mind from one thing to another are so funny, but because she described exactly how I read these days. From looking up words, to verifying facts on Wikipedia, to comparing pictures of people on IMDB, I read books in fits and start. And this is me, a person who grew up with no Ineternet and has just acquired these habits as an adult.

This is how we live. We can’t make it go away, and we can’t assume it is all bad. As Ms. Cliffe concludes,

Maybe what’s happening, right, is that people used to be able to know just enough. You could read the book, and know THAT AMOUNT about the feuds of Eastern Kentucky, and feel pretty good about it. But now, of course, you’re aware of what’s left to know, the overwhelming, “Nothing”-esque tide of data you’re flicking past. That any single fragment of this or any book represents thirteen years’ worth of information you do not have, but could have, if you wanted to. So how much do you actually want to know? What things are you content NOT to know?

Instead of confining students by setting limits, we could structure learning activities to take advantage of ┬áthis non-linear, interconnected branching off of interests to go beyond books, and even beyond our pacing guides. I’m not saying it is an easy way to run a classroom, but over time, we could get there. It requires flexibility and giving up the tight control many of us like to have as teachers.


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