Did you hear the one about how NPR posted the headline “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” Instantly people took to the comments section of Facebook to admonish the new generations’ lack of reading, the long forgotten feel of books, and how our society has programmed us to be like this. But, as it turns out, this was the “story” that accompanied the headline on April 1:
And, as websites and news organizations pointed out, as well as some commenters who actually clicked on the link, this was a rather brilliant NPR prank for April Fools’ Day.
While a prank, I could still connect to some truth in the story. Sitting in the library, I often hear students talking about a story that is so often supported with “well, I read it online”. If I’m part of the conversation, I often ask the student if they know who the author is because it could just be some Joe Schmo sitting in his parents’ basement writing a website. That image usually works with students; in fact, one student immediately told me that that would be a great name for a website and quickly went to find out if it was already taken. Or, I ask them to tell me exactly what did the online source say. This is usually when I get vague ideas and broad understandings, which could mean the student didn’t really read the article, scanned the article, or perhaps didn’t understand the article. This raises my biggest question, which is what does “read it” online, when not at school, really mean? I fear that “read it” doesn’t mean critically read it.
However, I am ever hopeful that if we as teaching community can faithfully incorporate the common core ideas, that more students will mean “critically read” when they tell us that they read something.
The common core emphasizes among other standards: analysis of text, analysis of multiple treatments of the same story/theme, assessment of an argument’s validity, credibility of a writer, and justification of one’s own assertions. If we earnestly impart these habits to our students, we should hopefully inherit more critical thinkers. But, we also need to consider how we can gain critical thinkers in the classroom, who will translate these skills into their natural, everyday reading. Or, at least, more students who are critical sharers of an idea, source, or article. This attention to analysis, validity, and credibility will serve our students well, especially enhancing their digital citizenship skills.
For example, I have instituted a personal rule that I must read an entire article before hitting that “share” button on Facebook…and sometimes, it’s really tempting to just hit share without reading. Or, I try to not weigh in on a topic that I’ve only read at headline or a surface level scan. This is a pretty simple rule that we can try out with our students. I envision a wall of Ripley’s Believe It or Not or Snopes quality stories that students bring in from their critical reading at home. If I had had this practice instituted in 2012, I would have been perfectly positioned to introduce my Human Rights unit and advocacy work just as the Kony2012 and the Invisible Children controversy hit. I know, from rogue posters and overheard conversations that some students had watched and heard about the campaign. But, how many of these students watched or followed up on the allegations leveled at the Invisible Children organization and what some deemed a media stunt.
Engage Students with their Real Life Habits and Activities
Engaging students with their normal activity is the first step to getting our students to use their classroom strategies, like close reading, in the real world. As mentioned in my last post, the authors of Falling in Love with Close Reading support having students begin with a real world example and/or apply their skills in the real world. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes run out of time on a unit…well all the time. And, what’s the first thing to go for me? Probably that real world example that I’ve come to consider an extension activity. It’s hard not to let content trump those activities. But, I’m beginning to think that the real world activities will probably be the best chance of my students becoming life long thinkers and readers.
This weekend as I thought about my post, my eyes instinctively strayed to the newly visible News Section of my Facebook page. Almost all weekend the story about the teen being suspended for asking Miss America to prom populated the top 3 stories. I imagined a student on Facebook (though, let’s be honest, they all think Facebook is for the olds now) seeing that headline and drawing a gut reaction of injustice. Then, I imagined a student who valued critical thinking and uncovering a story. If they had clicked on the story and read the whole thing, perhaps they would have picked up on the same two details that don’t show up in the headline. First, the student had specifically been warned ahead of time to not do it. Second, Miss America was present to speak about diversity and young women in STEM careers. Given that information, the punishment of ISS doesn’t seem like an injustice. And, perhaps, we should be talking about the juxtaposition of a speech on strong, young women and diversity versus a pageant queen being asked to Prom. My hope would be that a student leaving a classroom that emphasizes analysis and close reading will consider that clash between ideas. And, they will consider that clash without teacher prompting.