The Impacts of Technology on Reading and Achievement
It is not difficult to surmise that e-reading technology offers “real promise for improving literacy outcomes” (Biancarosa & Griffiths, 2012). In a study on young children, Bus (2009), found that the use of multimedia supports available when using technology to present high-quality children’s books helped “improve children’s focus on and subsequent recognition of words from the text, as well as their vocabulary”, whilst Verhallan et al (2006), found that “embedding multimedia practice opportunities into e-reading technology that can be sent home” increased children’s at-home reading. However, research on “matching students to technologies is still at an early stage” and “evidence of its effectiveness is relatively limited” (Biancarosa & Griffiths, 2012). As of 2012, only two large-scale studies of e-reading technology tools have been conducted; results were overwhelmingly underwhelming, but Biancarosa & Griffiths state that this might be because some of the programs used were utilized far less than recommended – “about 60 minutes a week rather than the recommended 110 to 165 minutes”. In his recent research into the opinions of UK-based English teachers towards e-reading devices, Goodwyn (2014), reported that 67% strongly agreed that re-readers would be useful in teaching and 81% strongly agreed that it would “engage more students in reading” (see Figure 3). However, access to devices remains an issue as “only 15% of teachers surveyed had e-readers available in their schools and even less currently used them in their teaching” even though “just over half stated they would like to use them in their classrooms if they were available” (Goodwyn, 2014).
Sustained Silent Reading: Digital Dichotomy
Autonomous reading for enjoyment increases reading scores as well as impacts positively on other areas of academic achievement, and the promotion of developing a culture of independent reading is deemed significant and recognised widely in education. At the Guardian Reading for Pleasure Conference in 2011 for example, every participant decided that the most important activity a school could initiate was Whole School Reading or Drop Everything and Read (Kanolik & Turker, 2011), whilst The Commission on Readings report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, recommends that students engage in two hours of sustained silent reading per week (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985). This paper suggests that to establish a successful SSR or DEAR program, autonomy and motivation is crucial in the cultivation of a reading habit. It also proposes that technology can provide the necessary variety, support and access to relevant and appropriate texts to impart that motivation.
Rethinking Reading Pedagogy
Effective technology integration is achieved when the use of technology is routine and transparent and supports curricular goals (Edutopia staff, 2008), however, e-reading devices were not designed with teachers or the classroom in mind, and current pedagogical uses can only come via the adaptiveness of teachers (Goodwyn, 2014). “Electronic media is causing us to redefine the word text” (Patterson & Pipkin, 2000), yet little research has been conducted on the use of differentiated instruction in reading (Little, McCoach, & Reis, 2014) and even less on the effect of technological devices as a means of differentiation. English teachers “predict the prospect of a growing emphasis on using media devices in teaching as being primarily student centered; relating to the belief that students like and use technology “ and also expect to use it in the classroom (Goodwyn, 2014). As English Language Arts teachers, we “have a responsibility to integrate these technologies effectively into the literacy curriculum in order to prepare students for the literacy future they deserve” (Bedard & Fuhrken, 2013) as well as meet them where they are with the knowledge and experience they bring to the classroom.
Many educators, however, may not appreciate that learners who “play electronic games on a system or on their computers are engaging in the passionate act of reading” and are having “intense reading experiences through electronic gaming” (Patterson & Pipkin, 2000). Hypertext fiction for example, a new narrative form, allows readers to choose, through the click of a computer mouse, a narrative path (Patterson & Pipkin, 2000). These experiences “may mark the beginnings of a lifelong reading habit” (Patterson & Pipkin, 2000) even if they are not recognizable to our generation as ‘reading’, and to become truly literate in today’s digital environment, learners “must become proficient in these new literacies of 21st-century technologies” (Bedard & Fuhrken, 2013). Learners “need more than access to technology; they need to learn how to apply it strategically to advance their literacy skills – especially the conceptual and knowledge-based capacities that become crucial in later literacy tasks” (Biancarosa & Griffiths, 2012).
The dichotomy of the digital revolution continually taunts the ‘death’ of books even while teachers recognize that young people “relate, and respond, to technology” (Goodwyn, 2014). For example, studies of elementary classrooms show “how rapidly young learners are able to use the special features of the e-reader to personalize their reading experience” (Larson 2009, 2010), which can only help with motivation to read. Whilst some parents and educators continue to view technology as the “enemy to serious reading and a constant distraction for young people” (Goodwyn, 2014), opening a dialogue with readers of online text will help assuage concerns regarding any negative impact screen-time may have on reading time. The data discussed earlier in Figure 1, helps confirm the positive impact technology may have on reading, as the amount of time spent reading has increased from 1984 to 2004 in line with technological advancement and access. The amount of time spent reading daily has increased, access to technology has increased, and reading scale scores have increased – can there be a direct correlation?
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