Don’t judge a book by its cover: 21st century implications of this age-old bit of wisdom by Dr. Sam Bommarito
Something interesting happened at our house at Christmas time. My two grown sons decided it was time for my wife to join the 21st century with her reading habits. My wife is an avid reader. Sometimes she even reads in the tub. Occasionally that can have some undesired effects on the books she reads. So, wouldn’t it be nice if there were such a thing as a waterproof book. Turns out there is. It’s called the Kindle and that’s just what the boys got her Christmas. Those who know me well know that I’ve been a longtime advocate of making use technology. This includes making use of technology in the teaching of literacy. So, this newest event in the Bommarito household provides me with an opportunity to reflect on just where technology might fit into a literacy program.
I have some fairly well-developed ideas around using technology in literacy. My very first presentation on this topic was at a national conference. It was the IRA (now ILA) conference held in 1985. My topic was Using Microcomputers in Reading. My foundational ideas around the topic were really quite simple. Computers and the host of things they have spawned are fundamentally tools. Like any tool, they can be put to good use or bad. My thinking around such how to use such technology was heavily influenced by Seymour Papert and his book Mindstorms. Papert saw computers as tools of the mind. When used as thinking tools (as opposed to electronic flashcards) they can actually help us think in new ways we could not think in before and do things we could never do before. Think of the movie Hidden Figures. Think of the many wonderful things projects children have done using computers beginning with the lego-logo projects Papert helped to make famous. And yes I’ve read the research on overdoing screen time. So as is the case with all human endeavors, moderation is in order.
I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues in the reading world and several of them have been expressing doubts and misgivings about using some of the technology available. Some have even said they would never read a book using a Kindle. E-books are suspect, and perhaps even substandard. I must respectfully disagree.
When I talk about the role (and potential role) e-books in literacy I usually begin by saying I don’t care whether a book has been published using the calligraphy of monks in the middle ages, the first printing presses, more recent computerized versions of the printing press or published as an e-book. My first judgement of any book is not based on the method of publication but rather on the books content and on the writing craft employed by its author. It is completely possible to create a really awful e-book. It is also possible to create a really awful paper book. But it is equally possible to create well written books using any of the methods of publication. As more people employ the technology, the number of good e-books available has increased. The most important takeaway here is that there is such a thing as a good e-book.
But, you may say, I just can’t curl up and read a good book on a Kindle (or similar device). Doesn’t seem right. I respect that. However, many in the younger generation (and a few in the older generation) find it wonderful that they can bring their entire library with them on trips and such. The writing on my wife’s new Kindle has the look of paper, so it seems a bit less techi than some of its earlier versions. She can also vary the print size, something very handy for those of us at certain ages and stages. I assure you she will continue to also read paper versions of many many books. But she has already conceded that there are some real advantages to the Kindle, including the fact it is water resistant (not entirely water proof). My grandchildren have taken to it instantly. Grandma’s Kindle is a good thing and even has some of Grandpa’s Kindle versions of his favorite children’s books (grandma and I quickly learned how to share each other’s e-book libraries). Grandpa has been convinced of the utility of e-books for quite some time.
Using Kindle readers is certainly not the only way technology can be used in literacy. But it is one way. Like all things, it should be used to fit the reader not the other way round. Those who don’t find it useful should opt not to use it. Those who find it useful some of the time should make use of it, in the tub and on the beach!!! You need never worry about forgetting to take your favorite books with you when you’re off on vacation. Kindle readers are not the only technology to consider for use in a literacy program. I will have more to say about that point next week. In the meantime, excuse me. I think I’m about to borrow grandma’s Kindle and read my copy of Pete the Cat, I Love My White Shoes. I’ve owned the kindle version of that book for a very long time! And today I’m supposed to be watching some of the Grandkids. As many of my readers know, they really love that particular book and they just love Grandma’s new Kindle soooooo… LG LG!
Doctor Sam Bommarito (aka long time techi, long time reader & very happy Grandpa!)
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Copyright 2018 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.