Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A “Both-And” Approach to Reading and Media/Technology

Background: This post is an assignment for my Innovations in Education class. It is in response to the various areas of education in which professionals take "either/or" mentalities and the hope that more can turn to a "both-and" mindset to combine the best of two practices. My particular topic discusses the marriage of teaching reading and media/technology literacy.  

The “either/or debate” surrounding the teaching of reading versus media/technology can for the better be transformed into a “both-and” discussion. Even prior to the Internet’s arrival, solid teaching of reading has been heavily connected with teaching writing and speaking skills, evidence that reading should never be taught alone. Now that the nature of real world reading, writing, and speaking has been fundamentally transformed by technology, we cannot neglect to teach with a “both-and” mentality. In order to prepare students for an evolving workforce and to create the affective context with which they will engage, technology, their first language, must be the foundation of our educational discourse.
            Teaching reading, writing, and speaking are bundled under the Langue Arts umbrella. Using two as a means to teach the third allows students to grow holistically in their command of language. For example, take the basic teaching strategy Think-Pair-Share in a critical analysis-reading lesson. Following the reading of a text, students might only have a surface level understanding, and this would be shown in shallow spoken responses. However, give students a provocative question to respond to in writing, and thoughts they didn’t know they had seep onto the paper. Kelly Gallagher nails this point in his 2011 book Write Like This, “When we write, we don’t simply spit out what we already know. Often, writing leads us to ideas we didn’t know we had. The very act of writing creates new thinking…” Thus, for high rigor results, writing is connected to reading. Following writing, students are more prepared to speak with a partner, small group, or the class, weaving in the third element. So, theory and practice show us that these three need to be taught cohesively, allowing students a strong command of each to use in the real world.
            If reading, writing, and speaking must be taught together, the package, like any curriculum, must also be taught in an engaging manner, and that means technology. In the past and many current classrooms, reading is taught using novels, poems, and short stories. Writing consists of the five-paragraph essay. Speaking is largely confined to speech class and face-to-face discussions. However, kids today read and write blogs, websites, and texts. They speak via avatar over the Internet. There is a cultural connection to technology. It is not only how they interact with each other but also how they will professionally communicate post graduation. Therefore, media and technology integration in teaching language arts serves a dual purpose: engagement and workforce preparation.
            First, technology and media integration speaks students’ language. Our society in general, not just young students, is rewiring our brains away from a conventional left to right reading process and toward an interactive, fast twitch mind set of scanning and synthesizing, the way one may scan a website in a zigzag eye movement. With research showing that our brains are malleable and not set with a fixed intelligence, a concept termed neuroplasticity, technology has reconditioned our thinking process through media bombardment (21st Century Fluency Project, 2012, p. 7). Nearly everyone with Internet access and a smart phone is transforming into a digital learner. In the 21st Century Fluency Projects 2012 article “Understanding the Digital Generation,” digital learners are said to “prefer receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources” (p. 11). Further, the article states that, due to this preference, “They’ve developed a ‘cultural brain’ profoundly affected by digital culture…, the brains of today’s children are changing physically and chemically” (p. 5). This is how we are acquiring knowledge outside the classroom and should therefore be how we present learning in school. Separating the two by providing a technology course and language arts course doesn’t provide them the skills they need to strengthen the digital learning mindset that already comes naturally to them and one that is quickly becoming commonplace in the workforce.
            The second purpose for the marriage of media/technology and Language Arts is the modes of communication our current students will use in their future jobs. Often we hear that many of the jobs our students will perform post-graduation have not even been created yet. What we do know about this future workforce is that they will use technology, both current and yet to be created, as a means to read, write, and speak. Gallagher (2011), citing responses from participants in many of his own presentations as well as valid research, comes to the conclusion that “writing well has become a gatekeeping skill across the workforce” (p. 3). Many teachers will provide various reasons for why their content is important in the real world. However, I agree with notion that regardless of a teacher’s opinion, it all adds up to a desire for our students to become functional members of society with a comfortable living wage. To do so, they need stable employment (which will become more and more technology based), something that cannot be attained without Language Arts skills. Teachers of reading, writing, and speaking must accordingly facilitate the learning with technology. 
            The end goal of education is to prepare students to be functional contributors in society, and to do this we must use technology in a manner that speaks to an evolving digital learning and teaches them communication skills necessary to compete in a technology driven workforce. A marriage of Language Arts skills and media/technology with a both-and teaching mentality rather than the either/or view is a pathway all literacy teachers should adopt. 

21st Century Fluency Project (2012). Understanding the Digital Generation keynote perspective. Retrieved from
amybethhale. (2008, October 21). Did you know? [Video file]. Retrieved from
Gallagher, Kelly (2011). Write Like This. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
shackletonjones. (2010, August 2). affective_context.mp4 [Video file]. Retrieved from

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