Academic journal article English Journal

Connected Reading Is the Heart of Research

Academic journal article English Journal

Connected Reading Is the Heart of Research

Article excerpt

In our pockets and on our desks, finding its way into school, work, and home, the Internet is everywhere. And because of this ubiquity, the nature of literacy has changed.

Our students have shifted much of their reading and research from print-based media-books, magazines, and newspapers-to digital texts, such as databases, webpages, and instant messages. Over the last two decades we, as teachers of English, have been scrambling to keep up. Computers, Kindles, iPads, Androids. Screens dominate their reading lives, and when we ask them to "look something up," they turn to Google or Yahoo. We know these reading habits (which skew toward skimming) and search habits (which rely on top choices that appear on the first page of results) are inadequate for the complex reading and research demands of college, career, and civic life.

Thus, while digital texts open many opportunities for readers, the amount and quality of information available presents new demands. In the early days of the emerging World Wide Web, Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, Paul D. Friedemann, and Julie Erickson argued, "We believe that to be literate in the twenty-first century, students must become composers and readers of hypermedia. They must understand its possibilities, uses, and design. Since our future texts, even more so than our current ones, will be hypertextual, students will need to understand the conventions and construction of such texts" (20). Their message still holds. As teachers, we cannot ignore the differences between researching print and digital texts, hoping that students can transfer traditional strategies (such as using note cards) to the complex network-and reading experience-of digital texts.

We must help them develop mindful practices while reading digitally, which, in turn, may lead to more effective researching and writing. To that end, we introduce a new framework for teaching adolescents to read: Connected Reading. The practices of Connected Reading are both mindful and social, an intertwined set of habits that can lead students to deeper understanding with all kinds of texts.

Encountering, Engaging, Evaluating: Practices of Connected reading

Alan, a ninth grader when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, scoured the Internet for information before, during, and after the storm ravaged the city. He found computer models of the storm's path on YouTube. He read articles from local news outlets about the flooding in Manhattan. He researched ways that engineers could prevent disaster in the future. Using his smartphone, or what he affectionately calls "my own computer," Alan collected his knowledge through a variety of tools that fit in his pocket. From video clips to news stories, his phone allowed him, as he says, to "keep records" of his research-and to share his learning with others.

Like many teens, Alan regularly reads, views, and listens on his smartphone, and whether he is creating a school project or, more likely, searching for his own interests, he relies on digital texts. But how does he find reading material? And, after he locates it, does he read it critically? Finally, what does he do with each text after he reads it? We know that having a "computer in his pocket" provides Alan with amazing possibilities, but what happens when distractions lure him away from his purpose?

It is with these types of questions in mind that we visited classrooms around the country learning from teens like Alan. As teacher-researchers, we led teens through lessons on digital reading, and we surveyed more than 800 students, interviewing 23. We asked them questions about their reading habits, on-screen and off, and we learned that teens, like adults, vary in their approaches to reading digitally. Some, like Alan, are quite purposeful in their searching as they conduct self-defined inquiries. Others surf or stumble from site to site, spending a great deal of time reading short-form texts on social networks. Some choose to read long-f orm articles or ebooks on mobile devices. …

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