One more Zoom? Webinar? Email? Paper to read online? How are your eyes doing? How is your brain doing?
Does spending time on the back steps with your coffee and paper feel so wonderful? A book in hand reading in your favorite chair, hammock, or at the beach? Does it just feel luxurious? Do you enjoy every ritual page turn? Do you feel relaxed?
There is nothing like the time spent with a good paperback book, especially during these days spent sitting in front of screens in one position or another, your neck craned and your eyes sore, skimming and scanning through endless pages. I know when I get away from the screen time, something will hurt. My back, wrists, shoulders (as much as I try to practice good posture and positioning). Parts of my body will just hurt.
Yes, I will get work done communicating in “lag time” conversations through email. I will learn a thing or two from an internet search, I will create work, review work and delete endless pages, but something is different with this approach. For me it is less fulfilling, less creative and more taxing on me emotionally and physically than writing or reading with pen and paper or creating with my hands.
Mary Ann Wolfe, in Proust and the Squid and then in her more recent book, Reader Come Home advocates and explains the research of how comprehension is higher off the paper page vs. a screen. On screens, we skim and scan, trolling for content absent of emotional connection, absent of connection to the written word. During this summer, when we transition to a hybrid form of education and try to manage the workload and stress of creating two to three lesson plans for the fall, let’s talk paper, as in books. We will save writing for another time.
Let’s not forget how the book whisperer, Donalyn Miller, captured and reinvigorated not only teachers’ love of reading, but ultimately had the chain effect of connecting thousands more students to books and reading. Her title, The Book Whisperer, has sold over 250,000 copies. There is a reason for this success. Donalyn’s wisdom worked, and kids and adults reconnected or discovered they loved to immerse themselves in the pages of a good book. Nancie Atwell, (The reading Zone,2016), whose work on literacy and reading, has advocated for years for the importance of connecting students with a good book, and that good readers make better writers.
Penny Kittle (Book Love, Write Beside Them, Children Want to Write) and Kelly Gallagher (Readicide, Write Like This), both high school or college teachers, authors, and bloggers (Digital Discussions ) have brought reading to life through the power of books for thousands of students, utilizing the internet for teens to participate in online book clubs. For years they have connected students from rural Conway, NH, to the students in Gallagher’s LA classroom, giving them the opportunity to share different perspectives on the same title, even before the challenges of race, political divides and inequities that our nation is struggling with now.
When we immerse ourselves within the pages of a book, the words transport us to where we want to escape to, to relax, to lose ourselves in another world, to chew on words and have the space to play with their sound and meaning in our minds. Sometimes I feel like VPR’s show A Way with Words with Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett is a “word club” for me, encouraging me to get up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning to listen to the radio, to think about the words I have encountered in conversations and on pages of books. An hour of celebrating the power of a word or expression. Many times I have gained more meaning of a book from their “wordly” discussions.
When we read on a screen, we skim and scan. This used to be taught as speed reading. I took one of these courses in order to help me on tests, and it worked for that purpose. I could read quickly for “content.” The skimming and scanning we do on screens, however, does not allow us to slow down to connect with characters, scenes, and the greater meaning of a text.
In a time when students are feeling disconnected and slipping behind in their studies, we need to make sure they have actual books in their hands. Students have the need to be grounded and connected more than ever.
When August rolls around, we need students to physically pick up their books for their fall classes. They have the actual time to read during these days of Covid and on-line learning, and we need to nurture this time with books. Students can come back to talk about books on Zoom or physically distanced, but we need to first pay attention to what we have learned from experts like Wolfe and Miller, to instill the love of reading in kids with an actual book in their hands.
Why do people romanticize escaping with a good book? Because there is something magical about the experience.