Yesterday I was reading a handout by Dr. Stephen Krashen called 88 Generalizations about Free Voluntary Reading. It summarizes the research and benefits to literacy of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), also called Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). You give kids books, and time to read them, and they read.
Dr. Krashen is an activist for giving students more access to books, more time to read, and less coercion to do so. His credentials are impressive: professor emeritus at USC, a linguist and expert on literacy, language acquisition and reading. He’s in the International Reading Association’s Reading Hall of Fame.
I have no trouble admitting that his articulate positions and research resonate with me.
It struck me as I looked at this list that it’s a lot like what I believe about children and computers: that student choice, plus time for unstructured access to lots of different computing experiences is crucial to developing literacy and fluency with computers. My vision includes a teacher or mentor modeling passion, collaboration, interest in the subject, and offering experiences that challenge students without coercion, tricks, or rankings. If I had to come up with a catchy acronym, I’d call it Sustained Tinkering Time (STT).
Picking through his generalizations about reading, it occurred to me that some of them are very applicable to students using computers, and some seemed not to translate too well at all.
Hallmarks of Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) (adapted by me from Krashen’s list)
- Free access to lots of different kinds of books
- Comic books and magazines are OK, hard and easy books fine, minimum censorship
- The teacher reads too
- No tests, book reports, logs, comprehension quizzes
- Comfortable space to read
- More often and short is better than long, but rare
- For all kids, not a reward or remediation
- Supplement with interesting experiences about reading – trips to library, discuss literature, conferences, etc. (not skill building)
- Good readers tend to be narrow readers (they stick to one genre)
- Look for “home run” books
So, looking at this list, there are some things that seem really relevant to the kind of computer fluency I would like all students to have. Wouldn’t it be great if students had:
- Free access to lots of different kinds of books software and hardware
- The teacher reads works on computer projects too
- No tests, book reports, logs, comprehension quizzes
- Comfortable space to read work on computer projects
- and that this was for all kids, not a reward or remediation?
I’ve skipped over some hard questions…
But not everything seems to perfectly translate. In FVR, the students are allowed to read pretty much anything (within reason). But for technology, I certainly would hope that aimless surfing or watching random YouTube videos isn’t what happens.
Is this being hypocritical? Is this just a way for me to pass judgement on applications that I like and think are “important” vs. ones I deem trivial and a waste of time? If I say, “no games” – am I just doing the same thing as a teacher demanding that kids only read “good” books for SSR, and thereby undermining the process?
I know in my head what I’d like to see – mindful interaction with the computer, making good things, focused collaboration, working on projects. Something that rises above drill and practice, clicking on stuff, or just watching. But what about chatting? Looking at email? What about playing “good” games? If you want technology literacy, does it matter if one student becomes fluent in making Wordles and another learns to program?
What’s the verb?
What is it that the student is doing that’s equivalent to reading? If you show language literacy by reading and writing, you show technology literacy by … what? Computing? Touching a mouse? Technologizing?
There’s something I’m trying to capture here that goes beyond the mere physical presence of a child sitting in front of a digital device. I really think this elusive concept is at the heart of what many have been struggling with as we all try to define “technology literacy.” Especially if we try to make the definition more than a checklist of skills.
You can smell collaboration in the air (especially in middle school)
There are other pieces of Sustained Silent Reading that really don’t work for technology, like the “silent” part. Sustained Silent Computing sounds terrifying. When I think about the kind of collaborative technology experience I’d hope to see, the kind I’ve seen in too few classrooms, it’s anything but silent. It’s purposeful, joyful noise, and you can tell the difference. But how do you articulate that?
It’s simply not good enough to say, “I know it when I see it.” But I’m not sure what to call it without tying myself up in semantic knots.
Pinning these experiences down with precise language deadens them like a pithed frog. (I was going to say a pinned butterfly, but when you can use pithed frog in a sentence, I believe it’s mandatory.)
What do you believe about learning?
And even if we got the words right, would it actually result in improved technology literacy? Would the lack of coercion raise the general level of technology literacy or lower it? In SSR, if one student is reading a comic book and another a chapter book, do they influence each other?
And is that part of the teacher’s job – to offer other activities that generate interest in more complex work? To model curiosity and trying new things? To facilitate collaboration and challenge students?
Without technology literacy skill tests, lessons on tools, and assigned projects, will students take more risks and try more complex things? Or will they do the least amount possible? I think this boils down to what you believe about learning – is it natural or does it have to be coerced.
Depth, not breadth
If you’ve stuck with me this long, do you see the technology corollaries to:
- Good readers tend to be narrow readers (they stick to one genre) – is this about depth? Letting kids explore one application or theme deeply rather than the usual if-it’s-tuesday-it-must-be-spreadsheets overview of office products?
- Look for “home run” books – is this about helping kids find the thing they really like to do? If a kid LOVES Comic Life, do you let them use it exclusively? Does the positive experience then open the door for that student to attempt other things? Or does it narrow the range of what that student will ever figure out how to do?
So I’m throwing this out there to you, the dozens of folks who read this blog. Does looking at FVR help with defining technology literacy?
What would Sustained Tinkering Time look like to you?
So many questions…