Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Literate about what?

I love to read books. My love of books started when I was in elementary school and I am glad it has been stuck with me as I have become a parent and progress through my 30s. I started with fiction. I read classics such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and hundreds of pages of lesser known works. The pages of books took me to far away places and I experienced adventures that were not possible in my real life. Good books were of great value and I savored reading them on the first reading because it only happened once. Reading books a second time is okay...but you already know what happens. I love that first read of a good book! As I go back to my childhood and think of these first reads, my imagination is rejuvenated.

Imagine with me for a minute. What if a book could talk? What if I could read a book and it could speak to me? Certainly Gandalf or some other magician could make that happen. What if I could ask the book questions? What if I could ask "why" when I did not understand a plot twist? What if I could pose questions and even predict what will happen next in the book? What if I could pull out characters and create side stories of events that happened in the book but were not explored? For example, what happens to Frodo after he gets on the Elven ship to leave the Shire? How many people have imagined various endings to that story? What if my book could talk to me and tell me what others that have read the book before me think? What if I could share my thoughts with the book? What if I could tell what I liked and did not like in the book? What if...what if...what if...?

What if the first read of a great book happened with a "talking" book? Wouldn't that be a rich and savory experience? I can only imagine...or can I?

The 21st century has allowed us to embark on a wonderful journey. We have so much information and so many tools available to us. And in many ways, the interactive nature of Web 2.0 allows us to do exactly what a talking book would permit us to do. It allows us to define unknown words. It helps us pronounce things. It gives us explanations of characters and events. It allows us to comment on, well, anything from a picture or movie to a news story. And more than all that, it allows me to express myself to others that interact with the same story. Whether it is a story, event, news article, editorial, obituary, image, movie, or audio file, I can interact in rich, engaging ways that a classic book can never give me. For example, will you comment on this blog? Will you share you thoughts and reflections transparently with others? If you choose to do so, does it make the ideas become a conversation starter as opposed to the conversation itself? Will you engage? As adults, we are often hesitant.

Now, for some, I have just committed a terrible travesty in my comments on a book. Please, forgive me. But a book is intensely personal. The 21st century is intensely engaging. I love both. But...21st century literacy is different.

In order to effectively educate ourselves and our students in a changing world, we must be literate...in a new way that is sometimes uncomfortable.


  1. What if a book could talk? -- I believe they can and have through many avenues that existed way before web 2.0. Through discussion groups, through parents who read with children, through teachers who recognize the value of collaboration & creativity.

  2. Cool blog. I look forward to reading.

    NY times have an intersting article about print media diminishing.

  3. Thanks to the first commenter on the blog. The reminder of the value of people and their intentional interaction and dialogue about media material (whatever nature that may be) is true and continues to be true in a digital world. In many ways, the Web 2.0 idea just builds on this concept. However, I do think there is a difference between a traditional book discussion and the concepts I refer to for two reasons. (Note that that developmentally appropriate is a caveat for consideration.) First, the discussion happens when I want it to. How many times have you read a book and then forgotten it by the time your appointment for the discussion rolls around? Or how many times did you have a question or a comment and forget to write it down before the actual meeting to discuss it took place? I do these things...of course, they are preventable if I would go to the effort of writing it down and keeping track of my note, etc. But perhaps that is the point...the ability to comment and question and interact is when I want...ultimately, on my terms. There are pros & cons to this environment but a question to ask is does ease of use create more dialogue? For some, the answer is no. For me, I would say yes. There is more to say but I'll move to reason #2. The conversation is not limited to those I know, which is often those like me. By accessing a more global and diverse pool for dialogue, I can experience broader perspectives and greater diversity than I may experience in my normal circle of interaction. Again, not always the case but my ability to access more people of varying race, gender, cultural background, etc. and to interact with them ignorant of many of these characteristics should help me get out of my bubble. Or so one theory goes. What do those reading think? What is your perspective?

  4. I was just on scholastic.com and they have all sorts of interactive materials...including a place for elementary (and other) students to discuss books through a message board. I really haven't researched it much. I just perused the site yesterday, but it seemed pretty relevant and interesting for students.