Technology Makes Reading Better. Here’s Exactly How.

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technology-improves-readingTechnology Makes Reading Better. Here’s How.

by Terry Heick

Recently I created a quick list of apps that support close-reading.

In that post, I theorized that “close-reading is the product of a dynamic and deeply personal interaction between the reader and a text. It is an active process characterized by questioning, adjusting reading rate, judgment thinking, and dozens of other “strategies” readers use to make sense of what they’re reading.”

Most teachers know what close-reading is. The part that I found most interesting was the seemingly alien idea of technology promoting patient reading. Apps, for example—how on earth can a tablet or an app or an iPad or headphones or some other gadget help with the focus, patience, curiosity, and will to sit with a text and make sense of it? The opposite seems more likely.

And that’s certainly possible. There is no “truth” here. In one setting with one student in one kind of classroom, technology could overwhelm the fragile interaction between reader and text. In others, it could catalyze the reading process like never before.

But that’s a matter of design. Of strategy. Of context. At one point, books were considered “technology” during a move from oral storytelling to written record. The same with certain kinds of binding, the printing press, and so on. Throughout history, reading has been altered by technology.

Reading is just the communication of ideas through alphanumeric symbols. I’m not sure what this represents such hallowed ground for teachers, but it does. Personally I’d be more concerned with reading habits, reasons for reading, the quality of reading materials, etc. Symbols change, forms change, media change. See the gif animations that demonstrate how a student feels when “bae won’t respond to them.” This is your audience, and these are the symbols they gravitate towards.

In the apps-for-close-reading post, I said that this “interaction” between reader and text during close reading “doesn’t require technology, but can be changed by it.” So it made sense, I thought, to guess at some ways this happens. Or should be happening, anyway.

With more personalization, more access, and more connectivity, we should be creating a generation of close-readers that can’t get enough. So if we’re not, the question is, why isn’t that happening? The pieces are there.

Technology Makes Reading Better. Here’s Exactly How.

1. Social readers are connected readers

Through apps with social components, readers can be connected through texts. Reading groups, reading contests, reasons for reading, book suggestions, building social credibility for the process of reading, and more are possible when reading is, at least on some level, a social act.

2. Adaptive learning algorithms can lead to personalization

With adaptive learning algorithms, readers can have the pace, diversity, complexity, and form of their reading materials personalized instantly.

3. Increased access & choice

Through digital storefronts, free eBooks, RSS feeds, social magazines, and more, there has never been a time where students had more content at their fingertips.

Like this book using an eReader like Kindle or iBooks? Here are 25 just like it. Also, here are 10 other authors that those who liked this book also liked. And here are 750 reviews that you can sift through to get a feel for what other people think. And please, download a free sample of any book you’d like.

And it’s easier than ever to publish, so while that means there’s more garbage out there, there’s also more variety. Fan fiction has exploded. If you can’t find something you like, you’re not trying.

4. Technology can distract, technology can focus

Technology can allow readers to annotate texts and share notes, which is physically interactive and “social.” There are also apps–white noise apps, for example–that can block out class distractions, and more. Before you blame technology for “distracting” students, make sure you’re honest with yourself about how focused they were without the tech.

5. Hyperlinking and digital mashing can diversify a text

Texts can be “layered” with links and supplemental media to compensate for reading levels of background knowledge. This isn’t a distraction–done properly, this can contextualize the text.

6. Analytics can personalize the mechanics of reading

Analytics can be, well, analyzed for the practice of reading—time spent reading, how often readers clicked on certain words, etc. I know, this is vague. I’m not a reading specialist or an app developer. The point is that data can be used to keep all readers in their “literacy sweet spot,” supporting struggling readers, challenging advanced readers, and offering choice to grade-level readers.

7. Texts can have their lexile levels adjusted instantly

Take the data from #6, and you’ve got a powerful combination. This means less or more complex sentence structure, syntax, vocab, etc. Platforms like news-o-matic already do this, as do a variety of apps and desktop programs. And using eReader apps, students can touch a word and get its definition instantly. Not that they necessarily will, mind you–close reading is still a matter of will. But they can.

8. Reading speed is more “visible”

With apps that allow the practice of sight words, others created expressly to increase reading speed, and others that measure time spent reading, words read per minute, and more, more than ever reading speed is visible, and higher reading speeds generally translates to increased comprehension.