Monday, July 19, 2010

Digital Sources Destroying Our Minds?

The authors, Wolf and Barzillai (2009) in their article, “The Importance of Deep Reading,” define deep reading as, “the array of sophisticated processes that propel comprehension and that include inferential and deductive reasoning, analogical skills, critical analysis, reflection and insight.” They talk about an “expert reader” can do all of these processes in milliseconds but a student it takes many years to develop these skills. So does today’s society of instant gratification, “immediacy”, “information loading” and a process that basis is speed allow as the authors say enough time for “deliberation in both reading and thinking.”

So the real question is--will digital reading change how we read and think? There are certainly huge advantages of digital information—the world is at our fingertips. I can’t remember who said there is a limited number of things that you need to learn today but one thing you must learn is how to find the information you need to know. The disadvantages? That is what I am about to explore and what strategies need to be put in place so that we are engaging our digital readers in “deep reading”.

I had to laugh when the article parallels this dilemma with the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks were distraught over the written word. “Socrates cautioned society against learning to read.” (2009, Wolf p. 33) He has worried that the written word would change memory and how we internalize information. There is a lot written about higher level thinking in today’s education literature. How do students make deep connections—by analysis, synthesizing, debating, evaluating etc. so there just might be something to Socrates’ caution! LOL

Next, these authors explored how the brain works when we read. It is truly miraculous that we can read at all when you look at all the processes and all the parts of the brain that used when we read. This article explores that our mind was not born to read (like we see, speak, move and think) it has to be developed. The brain has to create “circuits and connections” which means that our brain can go beyond itself (which is really mind blowing thought). The key to reading is “plasticity, which allows the brain to form new connections among structures underlying vision, hearing, cognition, and language.” (p. 34)
All different parts of the brain are used for different parts of reading like phonemes and visual letter symbols in the temporal and parietal regions. But what is really crazy is that for Chinese reading the characters are stored in the occipital lobe. So that our brains can adapt to the type of reading that we are doing. Now let’s add on the comprehension piece of reading—this is a process of building knowledge—“readers must engage in an active construction of meaning, in which they grapple with the text and apply earlier knowledge as they question, analyze, and probe.”(34) So now readers are building knowledge and going beyond the thoughts of the words that they are reading. This is called the Proustian Principle. The authors said, “This requires a great amount of attention, effort, motivation, active imagination, and time—time for the reader and time for the brain, a few hundred milliseconds…” (34) So when you get to this deep level of reading all four lobes of the brain have become involved.

“What we read and how deeply we read shape both the brain and the thinker.”(35) They go on to say that any reading circuit can occur, even some that only use part of the brain’s potential.

This article provided a look at many possible gains for students using digital resources:
• Digital has the potential to help students analyze, locate, critically
evaluate many data rich sites
• Allows students to respond and get feedback from others
• Great potential for communication, collaboration and creating
• Allows for discovery learning
• Very accessible
• Potential for enhancing comprehension, vocabulary and background information
• Since digital literacy is constantly changing a digital learner will be a
good problem solver and a lifelong learner

What do we stand to lose?
• We can be creating multitaskers, with quick attention shifts, and who always
look for immediacy
• Deep reflection
• Original thinking

Where is the transition problem?
• Young students are no skilled in keyword searches, locating appropriate
resources and evaluating what they find which as Wolf and Barzillai state
that there will now be a higher need for skills, “decision making, attention
monitoring and executive skills.”
• The internet is often “uncensored, unedited, attention diverting with no
clear boundaries, standards and organization (36).
• We will need to teach them skills in how to self manage and monitor, to
navigate websites and databases
• Other skills needed will be how to evaluate credibility, validity, bias and
overall quality of the resource
• For some students the sheer number of sites or hyperlinks will overwhelm
them and distract them

When can we start teaching these transition skills? Wolf and Barzillai state that it can’t really happen until they are out of the concrete thinking stage. In order to evaluate information learners need to be establishing the difference between what is true/fact and what is not. So when we can begin to hit these skills hard would be middle school age learners.

They also allude to the fact that what causes not to “deep read” might also help us to develop these skills:
• Web Quests
• Online reading tutors
• Strategy prompts
• Models
• Think alouds
• Feedback
• Thinking Readers---scaffold understanding

My Reflection: That perhaps the same brain circuits are needed for reading but perhaps my strategies will need to be around evaluation, attention monitoring, keyword searching, dealing with the wealth of information etc. Interesting that this can not start until they move out of the concrete operational stage of development.

Wolf, M. and Barzillai, M. (2009). The importance of deep reading. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

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