ELT and the Crisis in Education: Digital Reading Skills
Monday 6 December 2010
by Nik Peachey
In this post I would like to pick up on some of the issues I have mentioned in earlier posts and start to go into a bit more depth.
I would like to start by arguing that the majority of particularly young people living in developed countries do the bulk of their reading each day on digital devices.
If you doubt this, then have a look at this video made by students at Kansas State University in the US: A Vision of Students Today
If this is indeed the case, as I believe it is, why are the vast majority of ELT course books and lesson materials still delivered on paper? Feel free to answer that question in the comments section below if you wish to.
We take it for granted as English language teachers that we need to develop our students’ reading skills, but in most cases the nearest our students get to reading online is a printed version of a web page pre selected by their teacher. At best they may actually get to see a pre selected page on the screen of a computer, but is this enough to really develop their digital literacies?
When I think about my own online reading and the processes I go through when I need to know something, it rarely if ever starts on the page where I find the information, instead it goes something more like this.
1. I start at Google.com or some similar search engine. I type in a word or number of keywords or phrases that are related to what I’m searching for and hit the search button.
2. At this stage I’m usually presented with the first page of potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of links to articles.
3. The first thing I do is identify and dismiss anything that looks like an advertisement or a ‘paid for’ result, and then I start to scan the ‘real’ results. I rarely scan more than the first couple of pages of results, and as I scan I am evaluating the titles and the short text summaries that accompany them and trying to identify links that may be relevant.
4. When I spot a link that I think may be relevant I don’t stop and read it, I open it in a new browser tab and keep scanning the search result for more relevant links. By the time I have scanned a couple of pages of search results I usually have anything between about 4 – 8 browser tabs that I have opened from the search results, so my next job is to go back though those tabs looking at each page very quickly to assess whether it might have any information that is relevant to what I want to know.
5. Again I don’t read the articles or pages in detail, but I scan them quickly to see which ones I can dismiss. It usually involves just quickly scanning the first one or two paragraphs. This might result in me dismissing all of the pages and I might need to start searching again or I might find 4 -5 pages that may have relevant information.
6. It’s only at this stage that I really start to read any of the pages with any concentration. As I start to read through the pages I usually see hyperlinks in the text to other pages or other forms of multimedia such as video or audio that give more information or background to the page I’m reading, so as I read, once again I’ll be opening more new browser tabs that I’ll have to go back through and examine.
7. As I go through this ‘reading’ process I might not actually completely read any of the pages in depth, but this isn’t necessarily because they aren’t relevant, I could just be taking snippets of information from any number of them and synthesizing them into my own knowledge base until I have satisfied my curiosity about what I want to know.
What’s clear to me about this process is that it has very little resemblance to the way I used to read or to the kinds of course book and standard ELT reading activities that are commonly used to develop our students reading skills.
* The information I find very rarely comes from a single text or source.
* Reading is usually combined with listening, viewing and understanding more pictorial or graphical information.
* I rarely completely read any of the texts or sources.
* I’m constantly moving back and forth between a number of texts and comparing and trying to evaluate and assimilate similar information from different sources.
Well if you have managed to read this far and in depth, I’ll leave you with a few questions before I try to deal with these myself in my next posting.
What do you think?
* How can we make the reading we do in the ELT classroom more like the process I described above?
* Is it our responsibility as EFL / ESL teachers to develop these kinds of reading skills?
* Are these skills naturally transferable from the students’ L1?
* How does the reading your students do in your classes resemble the kind of reading process I described above?
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