Reading and Writing Differently - NCTE

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Reading and Writing Differently An Informational Overview produced by the National Council of Teachers of English

In This Issue  Voices on Reading and Writing in the Digital Age  Key Terms

Photo: Thompson-McClellan Photography

 Understanding Reading and Writing Differently  Research-Based Recommendations for Approaching Reading and Writing Differently  Further Resources Online

Voices on Reading and Writing in the Digital Age I never read books. I’ll be honest. I can’t remember the last time I read a book. Nowadays, people are so busy that they need to get summaries of it, like Sparknotes. . . . It’s a legitimate source. It pays enough attention to detail that you can get the assignment right, and you can read the whole book in a matter of pages. . . I’ve actually never read, like, Romeo and Juliet, so I read it yesterday in five minutes. I feel like I’ve kind of cheated it. I kind of feel like I owe it to myself to read some of these books, but I just know I don’t have time. I mean if there were 27 hours in a day, I’d read Hamlet. I really would. But it’s only 24. —Greg Bukata, high school student1 Clarissa, a 17-year-old . . . is an avid online role player and spends most of her time on her favorite site, Faraway Lands . . . a text-based site where members weave long and detailed tales about their characters’ quests and adventures . . . a forum in which Clarissa can be creative and hone her writing skills. This publication of the James R. Squire Office of Policy Research offers an informational overview on a topic that affects teaching and learning, and can be found on the NCTE website at http://www.ncte. org/magazine

In this digital hangout teens are not treated as problem-causing kids, but as legitimate players, artists and writers. Unlike in school where teens live in a world of hierarchical relations—where they are graded, run the risk of getting in trouble, and must obey all sorts of status and age-oriented rules, in Faraway Lands Clarissa is evaluated on her creativity and artistic ability.” —C.J. Pascoe, researcher, Digital Youth project2 Continued on page 16

National Council of Teachers of English  November 2008

Copyright © 2008 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved.


[R]eading is an irreplaceable activity in developing productive and active adults as well as healthy communities. Whatever the benefits of newer electronic media, they provide no measurable substitute for the intellectual and personal development initiated and sustained by frequent reading. —Dana Gioia, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts3 At the core, the digital age presents a paradox. Most teenagers spend a considerable amount of their life composing texts, but they do not think that a lot of the material they create electronically is real writing.


The mixture of optimism, urgency, and occasional guilt reflected above characterizes conversations about reading and writing today. Digital and online technologies are changing how we view and value these important skills. This shift brings teachers, researchers, policymakers, parents, and students themselves many challenges—and opportunities. Changes have occurred—and quickly. U.S. students now read for shorter periods of time, when compared with students from other nations, and with Americans of the past. And when today’s young adults do read, they often multitask with other media. About 60% of secondary school students combine reading with TV-watching, computer game playing, emailing, or Web surfing. 5 At the same time, non-school writing—text messaging, social networking sites, and blogs— involves students in social and collaborative processes they don’t experience much in school. Fully 93% of U.S. teens say they write outside of school, and 50% of all teens say they enjoy their extracurricular writing. But less than 20% enjoy or are motivated by formal writing instruction. 6 Moving into the digital age requires