Wednesday, March 7, 2007

My Concerns about the Future of Books

As technology permeates nearly every aspect of our lives, what is the future of books? This question has been on my mind for many years....however, this morning I started a new book that ignited this question anew. The book entitled The Book that Changed My Life is a compilation of short essays written by authors/writers describing the books that matter to them most.

I haven't even made it to the first essay. The introduction fired up my mind with questions relating to reading instruction, the emphasis on novels/reading, how technology is changing reading habits, and what the world would be like without novels as we know them.

In the introduction, Roxanne Coady (bookstore owner and editor/inventor of this book) discussed how she came to love reading and how her own deep passion for reading, cultivated when she was very young and sustained throughout her life. She says:
"I was excited to talk with friends about the books I was reading, always eager to hear about what they were reading, and inevitably lending my books out all the time. Reading was my passion. "
How many students today would say this? I would venture to say that the number has fallen dramatically in recent years/decades. I do know students who enjoy reading, but I know far more who are passionate about their computer games, IM, cell phones, etc... who rarely ever touch a book voluntarily. These technologies, or new passions, that our students are pursuing don't necessarily replace books however. While they will fill time, and perhaps teach new skills, they don't create the same experience. I love this quote from Roxane Coady (in the introduction):
Reading is a way to live more lives, to experience more worlds, to understand others and develop a compassion for what they confront and endure. It is a way to learn how to knit or build a house or solve an equation, a way to be moved to laughter and wonder and to learn how to live.
She goes on to describe her motivation for compiling the essays for this book and delves into the issue of childhood literacy (including mention of the foundation she started). For those of us who grew up surrounded by books, lived in families who modeled excellent reading habits and inspired us to pick up a good book just because, and attended schools that carefully selected novels that would capture our attention, captivate our imaginations and teach us valuable literacy skills and life lessons, it can be easy to assume that all children had/have this same experience. However, this assumption would be dramatically incorrect. There are many, many children who do not have this experience at all. So.... perhaps (hopefully) America's schools are ensuring that student's are exposed to great books and encouraged to develop a passion for reading. I'd like to think that too. But I know this wasn't the case when I was teaching. We moved totally away from novels at the elementary level when we adopted a very prescriptive reading program. That's not to say that we didn't find ways around this-- read-alouds right after recess to re-focus everyone, reading incentive programs to reward reading, family reading nights, etc.---- But when it was all said and done, our students weren't reading very many books. And schools aren't --and can't be-- held accountable for inspiring students to read, only ensuring that students can read. Schools have enough on their plate as it is. Families, communities, organizations, high profile celebrities, politicians, and everyone else involved in the lives of children need to rally behind early literacy initiatives and passionately persuade children to develop a passion for reading using all possible methods!

Concluding her introduction, Roxane Coady leads her readers into the essays by saying:
Apart from the sheer beauty of the essays, they are a dramatic reminder that everywhere, every day, someone is changed, perhaps even saved by words and stories.
How true is that! Somehow, for me, it's different when these words and stories are complied into a tangible book format. My reading habits on the internet are typically very different than when I am holding a book, lost in its narrative. Is this the same for our students? Or do digital natives process internet reading differently?

I'd love to hear your thoughts about students' reading habits, technology's impact on reading habits, and what books matter the most to you.


Chris Craft said...

I certainly think kids are more prone to not want to read something printed in a book, that's for certain. I wonder if technology really has had much of an effect, though. While the argument could be made that kids are less likely to exert the effort required to read when they could be playing games, it all boils down to family values and what is modeled, as you point out.

So I would wonder if things have really changed at all?

Steve said...

I kind of go back and forth on this one. Clearly books are going to diminish in value over time. EBooks and audiobooks are becoming more prevalent, and many students do most of their reading on a screen. But is that what you're really talking about? You aren't concerned that students won't know the joys of reading books printed on paper, you seem concerned that they will cease to develop a love of the written word, particularly in long form. Personally, I don't see that going away still. Reading satisfies different urges than video game playing or movie watching. It actively engages one's imagination and creative though in ways that just don't happen through any other method. The medium might change some (electronic letters instead of paper and ink letters), but I don't see reading diminishing any more than it has in previous generations.

That reminds me, I should read a bedtime story to Aiden tonight :)

Lance said...

I struggled with those changes when I was teaching as well. We moved away from using "trade" books to a 100-book challenge type model. Inspiring students to love reading is tremendously important and tends to be pretty darn rewarding for the teacher as well. On the other hand, the shift toward ensuring solid reading strategies for all students in a class necessitates differentiation. That is where I see endless benefits related to technology. Programs like Tom Snyder's Thinking Reader and KidBiz3000 that provide scaffolds (e.g., leveled text, auditory supports, etc.) for students of all levels are extremely powerful. They ultimately lead students, who otherwise might not learn the basic skills and strategies, to develop a true passion for learning. I just received an email from a student of mine from 8 years ago. He was/is a really smart kid, especially in Math. Wasn't so much of a reading fan. But, he emailed to ask me if I saw the ads for the new Bridge to Terabithia movie because he remembered reading it in our class. Totally made my day. Okay, mind dump is over. Interesting post. Now I have another book to buy :)

JW said...

My sister was the book reader in my family. I was the social butterfly. That was many years ago as I now have 33+ years under my belt as an educator. My sense of this whole question boils down to love of learning... no matter the medium. Some of us find meaning and clarity through reading a fiction book. Some through consuming trade journals and newspapers. Some of us through the adventure of reading "the classics" or Shakespeare or poetry. I think we put too much emphasis on the physical medium and not enough on the value of the experience of reading as a means to grew our minds. I can read online and grow or I can buy books and grow. I can download an ebook and have the flexibility of reading it on a trip while mobile (while someone else drives, of course) or listen to an audiobook. We need to help our students understand that learning and reading is a flexible and vibrant experience in the 21st Century. I am a former LMC Director and feel there will always be an important place for libraries, physical hardbound books, etc. as humans like variety in what we consume and tap. I want flexibility in my reading world. Some days I want to just sit at Barnes and Noble and see the variety of reading choices that are non-technical in medium while others I am content to take care of my "need to read" online - whether it is a newspaper, a journal, a fiction short story, a favorite Blog, whatever.

My thoughts...:-) I am enjoying reading yours.

Jan Wee

JW said...

Forgot to share some of my favorite books:

Alana by Tamora Pierce
Any book by Gary Paulsen (Foxman will remain my favorite forever)
Any book
Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Dani A. shared this one with me and it is excellent)