Written language was invented more than 5,000 years ago. Reading and writing certainly changed the world. Taken together, they facilitate the accumulation and distribution of information. Paraphrasing Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and many other researchers, “I have been able to do the work I have done because I have stood on the shoulders of the researchers who have come before me.”
The process of writing does more than just record information stored in the writer’s head. It facilitates the writer in organizing and recording the information so that it both represents the information more clearly, and that it communicates effectively with potential readers. Most good writers find it is very necessary to revise, revise, and still do more revision as they try to clearly communicate their ideas.
However, that still leaves us with the issue of what potential readers need to know to order to understand and make use of the written information. It is not nearly enough just to be able to read, in the sense of transforming written words into “sounds in one’s head.” Readers build on their accumulated knowledge—in essence, they stand on their own shoulders. They need breadth and depth of knowledge to read and understand in any curriculum area.
Of course, this is well understood. Our schools help students learn to read so that the students can read to learn. The goal is that students learn to read across the curriculum—that is, read in each of the discipline areas that they study in school.
Modern technology has greatly broadened what we mean by reading and writing, and has also greatly broadened the breadth and depth of information that a person might want to read. For example, consider reading a Web page. It is multimedia, perhaps including video, audio, interaction, and links to other materials. It is far more than the “old fashioned book” of printed words on paper. The remainder of this IAE Blog explores this new education challenge.
A Personal Story
When I was a freshman at the University of Oregon, I took a required English Composition course. Not only did we have to write a weekly composition, we also had regular in-class timed writing tests in which we had to write short essays. For the weekly assignments, I could look up the words that I thought I might have misspelled. That was helpful, because I have always been poor at spelling. Also, I could make more complex revisions to correct errors in grammar and to better convey my message. Neither of these essential aids to good writing was available during the in-class timed tests.
One might argue that the combination of these two types of graded activities was perfectly all right. We know that, outside of school, sometimes one has the time to write using a dictionary and revision, and sometimes one must write in “real time” without these two aids.
That was well before the invention of today’s word processor hardware and software.
Now, move forward in time to today, when writers have ready access to electronic aids to communication. What do we want students to learn about reading and writing in this new reading and writing environment? This environment includes:
- A word processing system with built-in spell checker, grammar checker, and other aids. For example, we now have computer systems that can “grade” a written essay about as well as a reasonably well-qualified and trained human teacher. When used appropriately in an interactive manner, such a system can help students to improve the quality of their writing.
- A graphical user interface (graphics display screen, mouse, and touch screen), color, audio, still and motion graphics, “clickable” objects, and desktop publication that facilitates the design and layout of a page.
- Access to the Web—easy access to an online library that dwarfs the world’s largest “hard copy” libraries.
- Easy telecommunications access to people across the world.
- Voice input and output that provides quick and relatively accurate voice-to-text and text-to-voice.
- Automatic language translation.
- Reading and writing aids for people with various disabilities.
I find the above list rather overwhelming. When we say we want students to learn to read and write, do we expect them to develop a personally appropriate and useful level of expertise in all the above?
In writing the previous sentence, I carefully inserted the words personally appropriate and useful. Reading and writing is not a “one size fits all.” Moreover, it in an area where progress can occur throughout one’s lifetime, as personal needs change and as technology changes. Students need to be aware of the full range of capabilities listed in1-7 above. (Moreover, a high level of expertise in one or more of them may help considerably in getting a job!)
What You Can Do
First, think about yourself. Are your current levels of reading and writing knowledge and skill meeting your personal needs? If not, what are you doing to improve this situation?
Second, if you are a teacher or have other involvement in education, compare what you see with what you would like to see. When you see major differences, do something about it!
References and Resources
Moursund, D. (4/17/2017). Education for the future: A special message for educators. IAE Blog. Retrieved 4/21/2017 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/education-for-the-future-a-special-message-for-teachers.html.
Moursund, D. (2/19/2017). What the future is bringing to education. IAE Blog. Retrieved 4/21/2017 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/what-the-future-is-bringing-to-education.html.
Moursund, D. (1/9/2017). College and job ready–and what else? IAE Blog. Retrieved 4/21/2017 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/college-and-job-ready-and-what-else.html.
Moursund, D. (2016). Communication in the language of mathematics. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 4/21/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Communicating_in_the_Language_of_Mathematics.
Moursund, D. (2016). Substantially improving education. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 4/21/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Substantially_Improving_Education.
Moursund, D. (2016). What the future is bringing us. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 4/21/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/What_the_Future_is_Bringing_Us.