I was very glad that Daniel Keller’s Chasing Literacy was included in the readings for ENG-W682. I have wondered about the future of reading and its place in the Composition curriculum for a while now.
My colleagues bemoan student’s reading skills. They worry that students aren’t reading books anymore. A few literature colleagues argue that if we based composition classes around literature that we could solve the deep reading problem. Others (myself included) argue that a curriculum based solely on fiction/poetry/drama privileges the discipline of literature studies. We have some who feel that we need to be teaching students to compose in various digital media while others believe that if we do so we’re not teaching students the very necessary skill of writing. At my institution, I have definitely seen Virginia Anderson’s “Digital Divide” among educators (qtd. in Keller 158).
However, while Anderson argues that instructors who embrace digital media are seen as “responsible” while traditionalists are viewed as “irresponsible” (qtd. in Keller 159), the responsible/irresponsible pendulum swings both ways at my institution. One of our literature specialists once said that he would refuse teach Composition “until it got some content.” It is indeed as Keller points out: “As literacies accumulate and accelerate, the divisions between these teachers may grow even wider” (159).
I agree with Keller when he argues that this curricular divide stems from a misunderstanding of the so-called digital natives. In his examination of multitasking, Keller states, “Assumptions that teens have a kind of all-encompassing digital expertise can lead to questionable pedagogies” (109). Whether it’s a “Return to Literature” or “Digital Now!” the pedagogy is misguided. Young people are not “All digital all the time,” and they are certainly reading long-form works. The evidence from the Pew Research Center is clear: Print and digital both have their value, even among those digital natives. Those 18-29 have read more books in the past year than those 30 and above (Perrin). Moreover, while 35 percent of those 18-29 have read an e-book, twice as many have read a print book (Perrin).
In short, I return to my last post: Digital or print is a false dilemma. We need a pedagogy that reflects the state of modern reading, one that reflects the value and use of digital and print media. For instance, magazine and newspaper reading has always seemed rather disposable to me. These texts printed on cheap paper, and the information was almost always time sensitive. Today’s news was always tomorrow’s birdcage lining.
GIF made by Leslie Johnson, using Giphy via the Comedy Central website.
So, what’s wrong with saving resources and moving such writing to the digital realm? If we’re reading a book for pure enjoyment, what’s wrong with reading it on a Kindle? On the other hand, if we really need to read closely and carefully, what’s wrong with teaching students to use a print text and write in it? Maybe if we can save them money with appropriate digital texts, they’ll actually be more willing to scribble all over a few books that really need a deep read.
As Keller points out, modern computing and the internet have clearly created digital natives who have some intuitive understanding of how audience and purpose change their writing. He explains how his study participants would craft their Facebook posts to meet the requirements and norms of the genre. “Although the participants downplayed their involvement and their writing, they were making complex rhetorical decisions that only seemed simple because they had internalized the discourse rules for the website,” Keller writes. “They exhibited awareness of kairos, which involves choosing the best discourse for the situation, taking into consideration time, audience, and context” (93).
Likewise, he demonstrates how these same digital natives have an intuitive understanding of what texts and purposes need what kind of attention during reading. In his example of David switching between a simple game and checking an eBay auction, Keller illustrates how these digital natives are not mindlessly wondering between media. “[David] probably would have performed better on the game had he not been switching to other tasks, but that misses the point,” Keller says, “he chose the game because it was inconsequential, which reflects an awareness of priorities” (109). Instead of dismissing what these digital natives bring to the literacy table, we need to build upon the skills they already have.
Because it has long been on my mind, I gladly take up Keller’s call to “study and teach a range of rhetorical speeds” and that we recognize “a continuum of faster and slower rhetorics” (163). Based on my experience of logging my own writing tasks for a day and Jill McGrath’s idea of a “reflection activity where [students] explicitly analyze the patterns they see emerging when they are reading both types of texts, when they are researching, and when they are scanning,” I want my new pedagogy to include a strong metacognitive component. The digital age requires students, as they move between rhetorical situations and reading contexts, to be hyper-aware of the decisions they are making and judging the effectiveness of those decisions.
When I return to Composition I in the fall, I imagine that my students will read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, LCC’s OneBook selection for 2017-18. I think I actually might collect the book at semester’s end and give a grade on their annotation of the text. Of course, I think this would also require some instruction on the history and importance of marginalia and interaction with print text.
I would also like to find a way to incorporate some relevant digital reading of their choice. At this point, I think I need also an assignment where they discover, read, and share a wide variety digital texts of their choice relevant to the issues we discuss from Outliers. All the time, I want them to keep a journal that reflects on their literacy habits, including some focused questions about the relationship between print and digital formats.
Although I don’t know all of the details yet when it comes to actual lesson plans and assignments, this course has taught me to firmly believe that we must not only have students thinking about their own literacy practices, they and their teachers must both constantly consider the interplay between print and digital media if we are to make sense of literacy in the twenty-first century.
Keller, Daniel. Chasing Literacy: Reading and Writing in an Age of Acceleration. Logan, UT: Utah St. U Press, 2014.
“Marginalia.” Harry Ransom Center. University of Texas at Austin, n.d. Web. http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/educator/modules/gutenberg/invention/marginalia/
McGrath, Jill. Discussion post. “Week 8: Digital Literacy, Comprehension, and the Classroom. ENG-W682 Literacy. Indiana University-East, 2 Mar. 2016.
Perrin, Andrew. Book Reading 2016. Pew Research Center, 1 Sept. 2016. Web. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/01/book-reading-2016/