Reading a Book or a Tablet – Creating the Future of Learning

Cute babies boy and girl in a chair reading

The findings of an international study revealed that around of a quarter of children in Year 4 at school are not proficient in reading and writing*. In the National Year of Reading 2012 it was indeed a disappointing result for those who worked hard all that year to raise the profile of the importance of reading. One of the figures that emerged at the time, is that some 46% of citizens struggle each day to read and write.

Do you Love2Read?

This brand proved to be such a good success in raising awareness in the light of these results.

It’s good news that all the public, state and territory libraries and library associations that backed the National Year of Reading have agreed to support the continuation of the Love2Read brand.**

Book with HeartsLiteracy is language in use – speaking, listening, reading, viewing, watching, writing and drawing. Children of the future need to be as fluent in as many of these disciplines as they can be. The family that reads, draws and plays together is a happy healthy well balanced one, especially if it encourages its children to become proficient and learn how to Love 2Read from a screen.

Ensuring that we become a nation that loves to read is vitally important as is boosting the literacy of children. Especially those coming new to the learning experience. All parents of children from the womb to the cradle and beyond need to ensure that some part of their day includes a period of reading, or being read aloud to.

Our days can become so frenetic it is often difficult to take time out to indulge ourselves in pleasurable reading. But take time out we must if we are going to contribute meaningfully in the years ahead. Are we right however to put the main emphasis onto books per se?

This is a world in which children and students are growing up computer savvy and often literate in multiple software programs. They are growing up with technology and have readily adapted to its many intricacies as they must, if they are to contribute to their future in their own time and long after their parents and grandparents have gone.

Today books are increasingly available to download to the iPhone, iPad, the Kindle and to our computers. The launch of iAuthor by Apple will change the face of textbooks in our schools. The new application is available free, and together with other apps for publishing ebooks, just about any kind of book can be brought to life in ways the printed page could never offer and it will reinvent the future of learning.

ReadBecause so many now look at a screen all day that doesn’t mean that they grasp all of its complexities. Eric Anderson, Assistant Professor at the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University, USA has written a paper about enhancing visual literacy through cognitive activities.  He believes one of the main reasons many students are having difficulties is because of the mixed signals they receive. It does not do them a favour if their parents and other people around them, who may be avid readers of books in print, rant and rave (and I have heard some do this) about how they should only be reading in book format.

Reading on a screen may not be as romantic, as tactile or as delightful in some people’s eyes as reading a book printed on paper, which should still be encouraged.

However the main point is to have them read and enjoy it.

Words are how the world works.

Today children need to use any means at their disposal, and available to them if they are to learn how to enjoy the experience of reading and, by extension, of life itself.

Boy-ReadingThis is part of an ongoing debate about nature vs. nurture. Today we would probably agree nature is about what a child brings into the world with them, their physical appearance and genetically engineered character traits. Nurture is how the environment a child is exposed to shapes its genetic tendencies.

Then there is heredity vs. environment and morality vs. immorality. Do people in the main react more to ways they are taught or according to genetic predisposition?

What is the importance of conditioning and thought on human development. How does it affect gender roles? The debate is not new. It has been raging for centuries. We do know young people learn through their physical, social and cultural environments. It is not a case of one or the other either, but all.

The most important sight they can see is a parent enjoying the experience of reading. If they do then they are likely to read themselves.

Subject a child to cruelty or abuse, either physically or emotionally, or both, and you might expect that eventually it will end up committing horrendous crimes and in prison. Seems to be the ‘profile’ for serial crime offenders, at least on T.V. However that has not always been found to be the case. Humans do seem to have an extra quality, or an ability that allows some at least to adapt and change as they grow.

This undefined element ensures some do overcome nature and nurture, heredity and environment to become something else entirely? What is this inner strength of will that enables one child over another, including siblings, to suffer and struggle often silently through terrible times and in maturity overcome adversity to triumph and go on to lead what they may consider a ‘normal’ life? But what is normal?

To advance historically, creatively and culturally since way back in the distant ancient past humankind has always needed to achieve far beyond what might be otherwise constitute normality. Where would the world be now without some of those larger than life people in history, who not only changed its course but also impacted on what would happen in the future?

Today we see some of them through very rose coloured glasses, seemingly overlooking their flaws because that is how it is with memories of those who have passed on, that in time it is only their goodness we remember.

In endeavouring to understand we can turn to popular culture. For instance: In Hollywood producer and director George Lucas’s six episode epic Star Wars he endeavours to explain the enigmatic Anniken Skywalker’s ascendancy from being a child who appeared insightful, clever, good and even wise (wisdom has nothing to do with age) to descend as a man into the darker side of his nature to become the dark evil Lord Darth Vader.

Anniken fell foul to temptation, casting aside his wife refusing her love and deserting his only children to pursue power, which once attained became for him the loneliest place in the galaxy. But his son Luke doesn’t give up on him. He demonstrates a singular strength of will to resist the same persuasion metered out by the Emperor and redeems and forgives his father so that he can become part of a life giving force.

We are left to ponder was it conditioning, a failure of genetics or a conscious educated choice his father made? Was he simply immoral, understanding the difference while doing wrong anyway? Or was he confused because he was emotionally and physically scarred. Whatever the answer the moral of the Star Wars series remains, that through achievements in literacy, learning and living a life of forgiveness, so much more is possible for human society.

It’s good to remember that before books in print there was an oral tradition of storytelling in cultures all over the world. Reading on a papyrus or on a scroll was an advancement of society, just as some type of screen is the way of a child of today’s future, and so to be proficient in that medium too is very important.

In ancient Roman society life was very hard and very different to society today. A father was considered a child’s ‘owner’ whether it was a natural or adopted child. Roman citizens taught their children to read and write and the boys to use weapons. They could also deny them and cast them out and newborn children could be killed or sold. Deformed and unwanted children were placed on a hillside to die.

From the third century onward children were given an education until they were twelve, with boys only taken into a situation of higher learning.

During the Middle Ages (c5th – c15th centuries) children of the well to do were dressed and treated as miniature adults whether they were boys or girls. By the time they were nine they had to be able to converse with adults.

They were also regularly flogged for every kind of offense, including bad manners and untidiness. Most parents agreed it was a necessary corrective and they were sent away as their forbears had been into service, to schools where cruelty seemed to thrive and only occasionally they were brought to see their parents to say grace for them or to read a passage of scripture.

One of the founding principles of humanism in the fifteenth century in Italy was an emphasis on virtuous action as an aim of learning. Architect and leading thinker Leone Battista Albertini (Alberti) 1404-1472 wrote “Della Famiglia” (of the family) about marital problems, father and son conflicts, bringing up children, love and friendship and much more.

He sincerely believed the natural place for education was in the home. He wrote his influential treatise about the family for a broad based urban public, one that was not skilled in Latin. He was endeavouring to reach out and raise standards of literacy across the wider community. His youth was all about achievement and the positive attitude that he was raised in affected his life’s journey. His accomplishments reveal that he was able to strike a unique balance between theory and practice, which are often poles apart.

By the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe social attitudes toward children were changing significantly. In the continual circles of the aristocracy and upper middle and merchant classes essays expounding the nature and nurturing of children were being taken seriously.

For working class children however the situation didn’t change, and between the ages of ten and sixteen they still lived an adult existence as throughout the Middle Ages.

They were apprenticed early and obliged to help their parents with routine chores. They well knew the rhythms, constraints and rigors of a hard working life. Although not yet independent they belonged as much to the neighbourhood as to their parents, by serving as a link delivering messages in the area where they lived. In this way neighbours, artisans, merchants, curates, policemen all kept an eye on youngster’s growing up. Raising children was a community concern.

Le Petite Dejeneur c1739 by French painter Francois Boucher (Musee de Louvre, Paris) captures perfectly the spirit of the eighteenth century intellectual enlightenment. The scene is delightfully intimate.

The family are sharing a morning meal together in a small room, whose furnishings while tasteful are not really luxurious by our standards today. It is the look of care and concern on the faces of the parents, who are gazing at their little daughter, playing with her horse and doll that is quite moving and a scene of graceful informality pleasing to behold.

Traditionally since that time children have learned within their family and community groups. Within this social context a wealth of knowledge, diversity of experiences and identities enhanced the learning process

During the nineteenth century as printing presses and the books they produced became more accessible, the adult-child shared book reading experience became recognised by many early childhood organisations and other regulatory bodies. Reading together emerged as an essential interaction for young children and became very definitely associated with various developmental outcomes.

Sharing stories also became a bridge between speaking and reading that began in infancy and continued throughout childhood. It was important to foster a child’s emerging literacy, as it also strengthened the bond between the adult and child. J.M. Barrie’s famous novel Peter Pan encouraged parents everywhere to read to their children who were hoping that he, Wendy, Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys might come to listen.

Reading aloud boosts the literacy, learning and listening skills of children everywhere. The warmth of the stories, the care and focus of an older child or an adult reader and the establishment of a reading routine can expand a child’s horizons. It is also a joyous experience providing parents, families and friends with opportunities for communicating in a happy environment.

When an adult, or older child reads to a young child it aids its emotional wellbeing and boosts its self-esteem. Teaming knowledge with imagination assists them to discover the world around them and inspires their interest and attitude in what the world has to offer.

An educator of over twenty-five years experience Australian children’s author Mem Fox says children who are read aloud to associate books with feelings of safety and happiness. Listening to stories from the first months of life helps children understand the stories we hear and read through books are filled with facts, fun, fantasy and food for thought.

For children less than five; reading aloud prepares them towards success at school.  They have a greater capacity for absorbing information at this period in their lives so it follows that the greater the opportunities to learn then the greater their options will be.

For children over five reading aloud assists to expand their experiences and enjoy being positive about themselves and others.

Statistics available from various State Government Departments of Child Safety and organisations such as Early Childhood Australia, or the Talaris Institute in the USA document the expansion and strain on regulatory bodies, organisations and people as the world changes rapidly for children, families and the professionals who work with them.

Interestingly the time where the least funding by governments is directed to children’s care and education is in the years before they turn five. In this area the important role parents, carers and families play in helping a child is acknowledged as a major determinant in the success of their future learning.

Mother & Son ReadingNeurologists, psychologists, educators and mentors are acutely aware of the significant role nature and nurture plays in the evolution of a culture and its society.

How we deal with children, especially in their early years, needs to be placed within the broader context of social development and gender equity if we want to improve the quality of life for everyone worldwide. It is all about accessing and learning words, which we must keep reminding ourselves, are how the world works.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2012

*Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762)

**Ref: National Year of Reading Press Release Australian Government 18th December 2012

1 Comment

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