Reading is fundamental skill for life, and that’s a fact few can deny. But how has the digital age, and the digital brain, changed the way we view reading? The answer is quite simple.
The digital age has brought many changes. Do you remember your high school math teacher telling you, “Learn how to do this because you won’t always have a calculator in your pocket!” LOL
Boy, was she wrong.
But it’s not just digital tools (online dictionaries, Google, etc) that have brought about changes in our skill sets. It’s also how our brains have changed in the digital age.
Reading and the Digital Age
Technological media bring with them a trade-off. We learn new skills at the expense of no longer needing previous skills. Think about how the typewriter changed the need for penmanship. And auto-correcting computers changed the skills needed for a typewriter. With new technologies, our brains change. Patricia Greenfield (2009) writes, “Every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Pulling out a cell phone and staring at a screen makes it very difficult for organic conversation to occur. In the digital age things like listening to others, making conversation, working through long passages text, and discussing ideas from books are harder to do.
The Educational Testing Service summarizes the reading skills needed for the future like this:
Reading is a building block of thinking. It’s an essential skill that allows you to learn and amass knowledge, which is necessary to understand the world, make good decisions, be creative, or just to enjoy a good book. Reading is important to academic success, jobs, quality of life and our democracy. It’s our responsibility to engage the next generation in the joy and opportunity that reading brings as we help to prepare them for the future.ETS.org
What Reading Skills Will Be Needed in the Future?
This article is not meant to be a social critique or philosophical argument. Instead, let’s focus on what skills will be needed in the future. This can reassure us of our efforts in the reading classroom. So here’s a quick list of reading skills that we think will be indispensable regardless of the digital age:
- Decoding words
- Comprehending sentences, paragraphs, and longer texts
- Fluency in reading and speaking
- Understanding a broad vocabulary
- Analyzing plots and understanding how people (characters) interact
- Creating and analyzing logical arguments
- Supporting conclusions, predictions, and inferences with evidence
- Silent reading
- Responding to others’ thoughts (speaking and reading)
What do you think? How does the digital age impact your reading? How do you think it impacts the brains of learners? What reading skills do you think are important for the future?