Category Archives: Reading

The Future Of Reading

Today’s children aren’t motivated to read. However, the same kid who seems distracted and bored and fairs poorly at reading in the classroom might very well concentrate and read a game instruction manual cover to cover with ease and energy. The solution might be to reconsider the role of traditional books and introduce alternative texts.

In the past when novelists created worlds in which books no longer existed, it was usually because those in power wanted to control the information and experiences that were shared with the less powerful. In Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451, books were used to start fires to keep the masses from being exposed to important knowledge and ideas. In The Giver by Lois Lowry, books and the collective memory they contained were kept from citizens for the sake of maintaining order. But in more recent adolescent novels, books seem to be trumped by technology and disappear due to apathy. Rodman Philbrick writes of a future world in The Last Book in the Universe in which books and reading have become obsolete replaced with mind probes to blot out reality. Similarly, MT Anderson’s Feed captures a world in which television and computers are directly connected to citizens’ brains where even school has become a copyrighted software product.

What Anderson and Philbrick have envisioned in the extreme many generations from now, many others have wondered about to a lesser degree looking toward the near future. What is the future of books and reading especially as young people turn to new media that capture their time and energy as they seek entertainment and information? What is the potential impact on schools? What are the implications for instruction in literacy programs? In the first of two articles for the Middle East Educator, let’s explore possible answers to those questions. Let’s examine a new vision of texts and readers and discuss one of the most important reasons for allowing this new vision expand the goals of classroom reading programs – to motivate even more students to find their way to books.

 A New Vision of Reading

For those of us who love reading books and want to pass that love of reading on to the students with whom we work, this generation’s attraction to the new media can be somewhat troubling. It tends to disrupt what some have called the romantic vision of reading that many of us have. This vision was captured in a photograph that accompanied an article in my local newspaper on the popularity of book clubs. The picture was a group of people joyfully sitting around reading and discussing a bestselling novel. Now it was nice to read that book clubs are flourishing in my community until I quickly realized that everyone in the photo was female and no one was under the age of forty. If we do not expand our vision of reading, readers and texts beyond this romantic notion of what literacy is, we may continue to be disappointed with our ability to achieve outcomes in our reading programs. Let me offer alternative visions of reading, readers and texts, both of which took place in the back seat of my van as my sons and I were driving home.

“Dad, what does exceeds capacity mean?” I looked up in the rear view mirror to see that my son was trying to figure out a new game he had purchased for his GAMEBOY. The electronic game was based on Yu-Gi-Oh – the Japanese dueling card game. He was actually taking small identifying numbers off the cards from his real Yu-Gi-Oh deck and programming them in his GAMEBOY to build an electronic virtual deck that he could use to dual the machine. As he was inputting his card numbers, a message “exceeds capacity” popped up on his GAMEBOY screen. I told him that he must have inputted too many cards, but he told me that he was one card short of the number he was allowed to input. He then picked up a small directions manual. (Just for the record, when I examined this little 42 page manual I discovered that there wasn’t a single comprehension strategy that I couldn’t teach using the pages of that manual.) He started independently and strategically reading that manual from cover to cover trying to solve his problem. When he discovered a section called “How to Build a Deck” he read that his inputted cards could only have an aggregated total of points that did not exceed 10000. He had not exceeded the allowed total number of cards, but the cards he had inputted had exceeded the allowable aggregated total. Now I won’t even begin to identify the multiple language and mathematical skills and strategies that were involved in playing this game, but I will contrast this reading moment with what I saw once we got home. I started helping my other son with his reading homework. Even though his teacher had assigned an easy, funny and popular novel and all he had to do was read one chapter and answer a few response questions, there was no interest, initiative or independence in completing the task. The contrast with the moment in the back seat of the van was startling. I was reminded of this difference again when I had three grade seven boys riding in the back of my van a few years later. The middle boy had brought along a popular satire magazine and was reading aloud a parody of the latest Star Wars movie. After he read aloud for a few minutes, one of the other boys nudged him with his elbow and said, “I think it’s my turn to read.” He took over and continued the reading aloud until the third boy requested his turn to read as well. I did wonder at the time whether a classroom teacher could get these three boys to stay as interested and engaged in reading something for class as they were in the back seat of the van.

I am not alone in discovering by watching my own sons and their friends that while the lives of young people may not contain the romantic vision of reading, they are also not leading lives void of literacy. In our new book, Books and Beyond: New Ways to Reach Readers (Heinemann, 2006), my colleagues Michael Opitz and Matthew Zbaracki and I have argued for the use of alternative texts in instructional reading programs. We ask teachers to consider the different kinds of texts they read each day and then compare that with the number of texts they’re using with their students in reading programs. If we can convince teachers to expand the vision of reading and texts to include magazines, newspapers, book series, cartoons, comics, plays, poetry, real-life materials and cyberspace, we may start to see our students through new lenses as readers.

Making alternative texts acceptable and accessible in classrooms has six key advantages. In this article, let’s look at one of the most important reasons – to better motivate all students to be readers. Through alternative texts, we may be able to reach even more students especially those who may not see themselves in the more romantic vision of reading.

Motivating All Students to Be Readers

Motivation tops our list of reasons for using alternative texts. Research on the affective components of reading suggests that there is a complexity to the issue of motivation that defies a one-size-fits-all philosophy. In their research, Allan Wigfield and Linda Baker, identify at least seven motivational profiles of readers. First, they recognize that there are many students intrinsically motivated to read and teachers have to do very little to get books into the hands of those students. Second, they found students who have less intrinsic motivation but seem to want to please their teachers so they read whatever the teacher suggests or assigns.

The third group of students while skilled at reading, still places it low on their list of priorities. They are often students more interested in the social dimensions of their lives. The fourth group of students was motivated through competition but only if they sensed they had a real shot at winning. The fifth group of students stayed away from reading because they didn’t think they were very good at it even though they did have enough skill to read successfully. The sixth group of students disliked reading and tried to stay away from it if they could. The seventh group only differed in degree from the sixth group.

What becomes clear in looking at these pro- files is that many of the students do not see themselves in the more romantic view of reading. If we are going to reach them, we may need to consider the use of alternative texts – texts that might allow them to better see themselves as readers and for us to see them in this way as well.

Looking ahead

As we consider the changing literate lives that this generation of students leads, we may need to reconsider the role of books in classroom reading programs. Clearly retaining a romantic view of reading where young people read and discuss the great works of our time is a worthy vision to hold on to, but we may have to rethink the way we help our students see that vision as well. In the second article in this series we will present five additional arguments for considering the valuable role that alternative texts may play in classroom reading programs. By recognizing the texts that are important in our students’ lives and finding a place for them in classrooms, we may be able to better provide our students with the skills, strategies, motivation and momentum they need to find their way to books, assuring a bright future for both.

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Filed under Issue 3, Michael Ford, Reading

Why Reading ?

An intellectual and creative breeding ground

If you’re watching TV while flipping through this article, it could mean you are greatly influenced by moving images and audio-visual information but are not ready to abandon reading. Read on.

Recently a colleague shared the following story. He was confronted by a student in his English class after arguing in favor of the usefulness of reading. The student stood up confidently and said, “Sir, why do I need to read? I get all my information on TV. It’s like a novel only with moving pictures.” His frustration at having to continually justify reading to a generation of students who see movies, television and radio as their source of learning and general knowledge was evident. His students seem to believe that books or novels don’t bring value to their lives and are too slow a medium in these fast times. Having recently looked at the “Future of Reading” in articles recently published in The Middle East Educator, I have already argued that the time has come to expand our vision of readers and texts beyond the romantic views of reading of bygone generations. (I’m not even sure that nostalgic view of reader really existed. One problem with nostalgia is that it is often accompanied with amnesia!) But even in a new vision of what it means to be a reader, young people still ask why should I read? I am not sure making academic arguments in favor of reading will convince students who already think that television is providing them with all the information they need. Some of the arguments of the past are falling by the wayside as technology rapidly changes. We use to be able to say that reading helps us cope with leisure time. It was hard to take a television show to the beach or on a train ride, but that now has become possible. We use to argue that books had the advantage when it came to control. Television programming use to be limited and available only on someone else’s schedule, but now programming seems endless and always available. So why read? Let’s try a few reasons that are still true today even with all the technological advances.


Believe it or not people have studied the language used in printed texts vs. television shows vs. adult conversation. When one closely examines the syntactical complexity and the sophisticated nature of the words used in printed texts, almost all types of printed materials exceed the language quality used in television shows and adult conversation. Even children’s books, comic books, magazines and newspapers offer better language models than a steady diet of television programs. The best models of language are in printed texts. Research shows that the amount of time one spends reading is actually one of the major differences in vocabulary development in individuals. Reading actually provides more encounters with language subtleties that are crucial to fully understand the information being presented in other media. In the end, the volume of your reading correlates strongly with not only your vocabulary, but your general knowledge, spelling skills and verbal fluency.


The problem with television can be the very advantage this student is touting – the moving pictures. The ability to make one’s own visual images is critical for many creative processes. In a visually-oriented society, however, many individuals over- ly rely on others to make images for them. Think about it. Harry Potter will always look like Daniel Radcliffe. Instead of creating your own visual images to go with a favorite song, your images are supplied by the music video you watched. For some individuals, this lack of mental exercise has caused their imagemaking faculty to get lazy. On the other hand, reading texts without pictures forces the brain to activate its image-making faculty. This helps individuals get stronger at bringing their visual images to text without pictures improving their understandings of those texts. This may also help individuals grow in their abilities to create visually interesting writing, bring visual interpretation to texts being performed or visualize products to be created through the fine arts.


If reading improves your verbal skills and your visualization strategies, then it shouldn’t be too surprising to conclude that it could also make you smarter. A friend of mine was a college counselor at private girls school. She wished she could tell every parent who came in distraught over their daughter’s low college entrance scores that it was too bad they couldn’t turn back the clock and encourage their child to read voraciously throughout her life. She knew intuitively what researchers Cunningham & Stanovich observed in their analysis of the correlations between reading volume and new knowledge.

When they looked at individual differences in knowledge acquisition in college students (after controlling for measures of general ability), differences in reading volume accounted for over one-third of the variance. Differences in exposure to television contributed to none of the variation. On the other hand, when probing the acquisition of misinformation in these same students, students with the highest exposure to television and the lowest volume of reading were more likely to have inaccurate information than those with high reading volume and low television exposure.

The researchers concluded that mass viewing of primetime television was often negatively corre-lated with knowledge acquisition.


The amazing thing is that very few of us have to choose between getting all of our information from watching television or from reading books. It doesn’t have to be a choice — one or the other. Both sources can be tapped for information. You’re fooling yourself if you think you are getting all the information you need from television. Different texts whether visual or print-based contained different content and concepts presented in different formats organized in different ways. In other words, people get different things out of different texts.

The person that both watches and reads different texts will probably have more information than the person that only reads or especially only watches a show. Let’s face it…you may want to be able to do both. You can’t watch the final book in the Harry Potter series…yet. And even if you could, sometimes the book is just better!

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Filed under Authors, Issue 6, Michael Ford, Past Issues, Reading