Slice of Life 2013

Slice of Life 2013 November 12, 2013: Smartphones & Shallow Reading

Slice of Life

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

This week my students are working on their Article of the Week (AoW), an article I borrowed from Kelly Gallagher’s collection. They are reading about the use of smartphones affecting our ability to think deeply. In the article the author mentions Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. The information in the article spurred me on to pick up Carr’s book and dig a little deeper into this topic.

What I am reading is causing me great distress, both personally and professionally. Carr outlines the many ways that our nation’s obsession with our smartphones is costing us our ability to do the kind of deep reading and thinking required in most classrooms today. While we may be spending more time “reading” on the internet, this reading is more like “browsing” than the kind of reading that requires concentration and deep thought. We flip back and forth from one site to the next, clicking away on hyperlinks as we quickly skim and scan the content. This different type of reading and responding to text is re-wiring our brains.

Personally, I have begun to notice that my own obsession with my smartphone and its apps has had an effect on my concentration. I tend to be less willing to tackle longer articles and dense text when I can quickly scan my phone for the latest tweets. Of course I still engage in deeper reading, but I am noticing that I am often less motivated to tackle reading tasks that are challenging, long, or complicated.

Professionally, I am deeply concerned about the implications of Carr’s work. Our state curriculum is aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Students are expected to engage in “close reading” and analysis of text, text that is often very complicated and challenging to the average middle school student. Their willingness to tackle this kind of intellectually challenging task is going to be that much more difficult if they don’t have the brain power to do it. If students’ brains are being fed a consistent diet of “shallow” reading, how can we expect them to embrace the feast that is “close” reading and deep analysis of text?

I worry that our state end of grade reading comprehension test is designed to assess a student’s ability to read deeply and analyze text. With nine long passages to read, students are not apt to read that deeply. The test is three hours long and many students struggle to read each passage once, let alone the two to three times required to truly analyze the text. If students are not able to sustain attention for one long article, what is the likelihood they will for nine?

What about you? Are you seeing any of this in your own reading life? What about your students’ reading lives?

I don’t see us giving up our smartphones any time soon, so what’s a teacher to do?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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