Friday, March 09, 2007

Johnny Can't (Won't) Read

I saw this image at one of my favorite blogs - Guy Kawasaki's How to Change the World. It's a picture of a book he's reading called Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days - the post-its at the top are material for his next book, and on the side material for his blog.

This image brought to the surface something that I've been thinking of quite a bit - students and textbooks. As a full-time teacher, I hear this refrain all the time - "my students don't read" - I even have a colleague who adopts textbooks based on their thickness - at least that's one of the criteria. His reasoning - a book that's four inches thick is gonna scare off students - unfortunately I've seen it happen, so there's some truth to his statement.

So what are we to do? Do we give in to this apathy and abandon paper books in favor of e-books? Do we move to audio, video and other multimedia? Many of us are already doing that with podcasting and vodcasting (video) and other new learning technologies. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

As someone who is tethered to his computer and starts to suffer withdrawal when I can't check my email, let me be the first to say that I love books. I still have every book I ever had as a student - even the dreaded "Brain and Behavior." At home, I have a stack of books waiting to be read and a book that I am currently reading. In spite of all of that, I read over a dozen blogs regularly, I listen to a number of podcasts and I watch a ton of video on my laptop, including video podcasts, TV shows I missed - even a new web-based TV service called Joost (pronounced juiced) that I'm beta-testing.

So what's this all mean? It doesn't mean that students can't read or won't read - it means that they don't read - primarily because they're not engaged. Karl Kapp, in his upcoming book Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning: Tools and Techniques for Transferring Know-How from Boomers to Gamers observes that today's students need - even crave - more stimuli - much more stimuli than we currently provide tehm. So the solution is not to replace books with audio, video and multimedia, but instead to provide students with a much more rich environment, which includes all of the above. Engage them and they will want to read!

I leave you with an example that does just that! - GoogleLit Trips - a "mash-up," created by teachers Jerome Burg and Matthew Hart, that combines Google Earth with classic literature.

Have you read Homer's The Odyssey?

I have, but it wasn't easy - it's a tough book to get through, even for the most ardent reader. One of the most difficult things for me was to visualize and contextualize the story.
That's where GoogleLit Trips comes in - with GoogleLit Trips students can view and follow a three-dimensional version of the journeys made by Odysseus. Other "trips" available include The Grapes of Wrath, Candide, Macbeth, and The Aeneid.

The books don't become any easier to read, but as we begin to build a more rich environment, we increase student engagement, excitement and ultimately understanding.


Mary-Louise said...

I work for Guy Kawasaki. Thanks for your comment about Guy and the link to his blog posting: Founders at Work!


Karl Kapp said...


Great find with the GoogleLit Trips. We do complain that students don't like to read but they did gobble up the thickest book ever written for kids, Harry Potter. I think visualization is a real key for these learners who grew up on the web, with video games and with MTV.


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