Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reading Jane Eyre in the Bathtub

Nearly every time the Kindle or Nook comes up in conversation, someone will complain that it’s just too hard to read a 600-page novel on such a little screen, and just as surely, someone will lament that you can't take an e-book into the bathtub.

You may think I’m kidding, so look at the comments on Lynn Neary’s NPR article “How E-books Will Change Reading and Writing.” Right there in the comments, Leslie Thomas (Carrington) states:

You can't take a dogeared old copy of Jane Eyre—in an electronic gadget—to the tub to read in a bubble bath.

The answer to that little problem, by the way, is to put the so-called “electronic gadget” in a Ziploc bag. That’s a little beside the point though.

The real problem is that when many people hear the term e-book, they think almost exclusively of paper-based novels (typically very long ones) that are shifted onto an electronic contraption that seems wholly unsuitable. People conjure a sort of “fish out of water” image. Or I guess to be true to the bathtub reference maybe a “synchronized swimming kittens” image would be better.

This (mis)understanding of e-books is what we teachers need to talk about. Take a few minutes to read “How E-books Will Change Reading and Writing.” Neary is talking about Twitter books and cell phone novels, and she explores how the various ways of reading digital texts shape how those texts are written.

This reshaping of how people write for online readers isn’t really new at all. Digital hypertexts have been around for over two decades. Take a look at the work of Michael Joyce for example. Yet we’re still in a society where people reject e-books because you can’t take them in the bathtub. Our job is to get people past these dated notions of texts and reading.

As teachers, we need to help students, colleagues, family members, and administrators recognize that learning 21st century literacy skills is a much more complex then simply trading ink on paper for pixels on a screen. It’s not about reading that dog-eared copy of Jane Eyre on some electronic gadget. It’s about a completely re-thought notion of what we read and how we read.

The best place to start is to ask students to pay attention to their reading habits. By noticing all the different kinds of texts they read, students begin to consciously recognize the many literacy demands in contemporary society. With this start, they create a working definition of literacy that they refine and explore further—and which they can share with their families and their wider community.

I recommend three ReadWriteThink lesson plans to begin a discussion of reading in the classroom:

It’s unlikely that every student will have access to an e-book reader like the Kindle or Nook in today’s classroom. But every student can get beyond the notion that the only kind of book worth reading is dog-eared and bathtub-ready.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a kindle and just finished reading Stephen King's 1000+ page The Stand on it. I love reading on the Kindle and take it in the bathtub. For 14.00 I bought an awesome waterproof Kindle case that I can use on my boat, at the beach, and yes, in the bathtub!