The Hidden Value in Books

September 12, 2009 at 2:30 am | Posted in uncategorized | 19 Comments

We talked yesterday about reading being a mentally active experience.  However, unless some form of dialogue occurs between readers, then thoughts, ideas, and challenges to the text remain hidden.

In Clive Thompson’s The Future of Reading in a Digital World, he shares an example of how publishing a book online using CommentPress,

…blew the book open into a series of conversations; every paragraph could spawn its own discussion forum for readers.

In the past you may have participated in classroom discussions about assigned readings, but those discussions had to be scheduled to fit the constraints of the class time.  Often initial thoughts and ideas become lost or diluted.  With anytime, anywhere conversations, whether you are commenting on sites using CommentPress, tracking comments with CoComment or highlighting and annotating sites using Diigo, the hidden value of the reader becomes visible to everyone.

What is the future of reading and how do you imagine it in and beyond the classroom?



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  1. The future of reading is right here…online! I believe there will be a slow progression towards online reading and learning. Chapter 3 in the book SUBJECTS MATTER outlines why textbooks are not enough. Textbooks most certainly can be used as a reference in the classroom, but the majority of reading should come from newspapers, magazines, online sites, etc. These supplemental sources are most likely to be up-to-date. Moreover, students will be able to make connections to these things if they see them in the news..instead of in a 20 year old text book. Textbooks cover too many topics without fully developing any of them well. Whenever I was given a massive textbook, I thought to myself “are we really going to read this whole thing???” I think when students are given smaller articles, they are more likely to spend the time reading them because there is an end in sight…and it’s not 1000 pages down the road.
    I love the idea of students being about to comment to sections of a textbook or article online. For an online class I took over the summer, we were required to read a chapter in the textbook and post our reactions and questions online. We were also required to respond to other student’s posts. This was kind of like an online conversation. …somewhat like we are doing here. Often times there would be several comments to one post made. This showed that the students were thinking about what other people were saying and commenting on it. It was like a classroom atmosphere but we were all in other places and responding at different times. This allowed students more time to think about what they wanted to say. They were not constricted to a 45 minute class period. Sometimes it was hours or days later that someone would comment on another person’s post. I do have one issue with online learning. Some students might not have the internet or computers at home. Some students may have a disability that does not allow them to participate in such an activity. How can we ensure that all students are able to participate? What adaptations can be made for students suffering from a disability?

  2. I believe in the digital age the future of reading is having new horizons. The amount of the reading sources that is available to us now- online- is amazing. And the fact that easily accessing all these reading sources is astonishing.
    And if we are thinking about the future of reading – school wise- then the answer would be “not in the text- books any more”. Having all these sources-the ones that we have been exploring and reading about in this class so far and others we didn’t explore yet- will help teachers to enrich their teaching and learning environments. It is the future of text- books as references.
    I can imagine a classroom in which the teachers and students are using all the possible different sources to get the ideas and to construct knowledge, where the units- or at least most of them- look like the fast food unit we read in chapter 1 of “Subjects Matter”, and where students can interact with each others in the classroom through discussions and they can carry on their discussions online outside the classroom as well.
    Yesterday I watched a video on you tube
    a family of readers Video.
    The video represents the future of reading through a family; the parents are traditional readers who use books, news papers, etc…, the kids are online readers. And what really got my attention is a comment by Zack’s mother, she is amazed by the amount of content her son absorbs every day, she said:”If he had to go pick up all these resources in prints it would be almost impossible”. Zach on the other side craves interaction with other readers – he says it’s about “the conversation.”, and that why I believe the future of reading should be online.
    The question is: are there any risks for allowing our kids to spend too much time on social

  3. I think there is a short and a long term answer to what the future of reading is going to look like inside and outside the classroom. In the near future, I do agree that reading material is predominantly going to be shared on the Internet. This will then allow on-line dialogue via blog sites to discuss and ask questions about that reading. Two advantages of this process are that it is live and comments are preserved to be referenced. I also envision extensive use of video and audio media embedded within the blog communications.
    To fully enable this form of communication within schools, many firewalls and blocking mechanisms are going to have to be lifted, though. These practices are limiting the access and use of this technology. Other methods are going to have to be developed to monitor and make sure students don’t abuse the technology.
    Long term, I believe that society is going to move away from its dependence on the written word. A lot of people prefer visual and auditory means of communication. I think these forms of communication are going to move to the forefront to replace the processing of written words because reading will take too long and not be direct enough for future generations. Look at how people are listening to books on CD and listening to and watching podcasts now. My twenty something son accesses most of his information this way now. He reads hardly anything anymore. I’m fully confident that means of dialogue will be developed within these forms of communication. The only purpose of written words in this context would be to provide some form of documentation for reference. What do you think about this?

    Cal Dupuis

  4. Mary – You brought up some valid points. Using the public library is one common response to the issue of students not having internet access at home. Anyone else have other ideas? I was wondering what types of disabilities you were referring to as this might help us comment.

    Russina – Here’s the link to the video you mentioned. Would you see any possible risks for spending too much time on social networks?

    Cal – You are not alone to voice concerns over school filters. There are 106 comments on Will Richardson’s post on Filter Fun. I would have to disagree with your comments on society moving away from the written word. Reading, writing, listening, and speaking are so interconnected. The creation of a quality podcast or video starts with a written script. My person reading online has increased tremendously in the past few years. So while dependence on reading traditional books may decrease, I don’t think we will move away from the written word anytime soon. I’m anxious to hear other comments.

  5. We can trace dialogue back to ancient times and ancient philosophers. I would think (assume) that discussions on text, ideas and theories were relevant and leading methods of communication in ancient times. Who knew about Columbus’s journey around the world when it was happening? His main method of expressing his ideas probably consisted of conversations and his own written word on paper. I’m guessing his written word was not easily published, distributed and accessible.

    In today’s classroom we must be cognitive of the various types of resources available. Mary pointed out that texts must be used as supplemental sources, and various other sources can be used. Russina also commented on the ability to pull different resources into the classroom. I agree with their assessments and feel there are two significant advantages that result from using numerous sources. First, using multiple sources will bring in various opinions on a subject matter, and may even bring in contradicting information. Collaboration of ideas is a necessary portion of the learning process, and if all students are reading the same text, then we may be missing the ability to generate and formulate ideas and construct opinions based on our discussions. Second, the discussions that could be created from such an environment can create a more in-depth learning experience. Think about the difference in student discourse when using multiple sources compared to one source. The discussion that occurs with multiple sources should lead to multiple opinions and ideas shared amongst students. Those discussions centered around a single source may not be nearly as powerful, or insightful.

    One thing that is almost certain, technology will keep on improving. Cal may be correct that the written word may become outdated. It is possible that people will choose the easier route, which would involve a lot more listening to informational sources versus reading them. For the sake of our children’s future education, the written word must never be abandoned by students, life long learners or teachers. This may become a battle teachers will need to fight in the future, but without a deep understanding of the written word, the spoken word and technology may become useless.

    The sources students and life long learners have at their disposal are vast. The ability for a person to publish their work is instantaneous. Through Diigo we can pick apart someone’s work (by highlighting) and pose more questions, again instantaneously. Information, debates, criticism, knowledge and much more is all at our fingertips. And it will only increase and become easier to access. As teachers we must embrace new technology, various (credible) sources and allow for student to share their viewpoints and opinions with a variety of other students.

    Have we in the 20th century steered away from forums of discussion, and become more likely to believe the first article, or only text we read? Have we become narrow minded in the schools when using one resource as the source of knowledge?

  6. I have to disagree that society will never move away from a dependence on written word–we will maintain some degree of dependence for certain. Reading written music will never become obsolete. Written music itself is a language. Mathematics too will maintain a dependence on written language. The mathematical symbols and use of abstract concepts are best written out to be expressed. This point may be trivial, but without electricity, we have no video or audio. I do not feel that these sources of text can ever be fully replaced. Reading in itself will never be replaced. There are just too many books to be placed on CD in order to resort to audio. Books will continue to be something of monetary value.

    The New York Times published a series of articles on the future of reading. This particular one focuses on obviously English classrooms. But I thought it was interesting that there is a transition to students choosing their own books in class. Still not everyone is agreed that this method is the best; some schools maintain the stance that students should all read a common body of literature and others have adopted a combination approach. Now this article continues on the concept of books in the classroom and does not address the electronic side as we are attempting.

    When I was student teaching; the textbook publisher had their textbook. Students had access to this feature and my teacher mentioned that many students look at everything online. It allowed students to leave their textbook wherever and still have access to all of the textbook’s resources. In Subjects Matter, we talk about textbook resources being often not worth the extra money. Here is a case I believe where paying extra for an online textbook may be beneficial. But in the mathematics classroom, I can’t think of a time when I would assign students to go home and read a section before class (while maybe completing another assignment). There is minimal reading in a mathematical textbook but understanding content becomes an issue. There were times while I was in school where I was told to read a section before class. Did I read before class, no, because often material did not make sense before it was explained. I cannot learn out of a book alone. I also have felt that textbooks are only reference material in the classroom—however they also maintain problems which students must complete (not all obviously) to practice mathematical concepts so they can never be obsolete unless you have resources for each level of mathematics.

    I think something that is important is that reading mathematics textbooks differs from reading a novel. It is something that is not really taught in schools. I do not think that in the general education or inclusive classroom many, if any teachers focus on the idea that reading a mathematics textbook is different from reading a novel. I think that this is something that needs to be included in the classroom. In the classroom, teachers in mathematics and science (as well as other areas) have included videos from so there will be an interactive approach.

    So, summing things up I do not feel as though the textbook will become obsolete. Interactive videos and online content has begun to make a move into the classroom. I think my question becomes—as Subjects Matter questions the reader, how do we include additional reading despite the pressure to conform to state and district standards? Of those books listed in Subjects Matter, do we consider assigning (or photocopying) a segment for students to read and have discussion on in the classroom?

    Lastly, I want to question reading online. As another one of the New York Times articles mentions, no matter what you engage in online, you are involving some engagement or reading of text. Internet resources are readily available and inexpensive. Instead of buying a book on wiring a home network or phone line, I can search online and find ample material. < The problem is that how do we make out good material from bad material? How do we sort out useful material from garbage? How do we get our students to understand the good versus bad?

  7. I believe the use of technology and digital discussions will have in increasing role both in and outside of the classroom. However, I see these as more of a means by which we can enhance hard copies of texts as opposed to completely replacing them. The internet has certainly made an abundance of resources more accessible to the general public, and that is no doubt something that we can and need to take advantage of.

    I am completely supportive of the use of forums, blogs, and other means to spark and promote engaging discussions and debates amongst students. As previous posters have mentioned, it enables an indefinite time frame on something that would normally be confined to a single class period, if that. I believe another huge factor that can play into this is allowing students or posters to remain anonymous. Some students are more timid than others, and some may simply feel uncomfortable expressing their views in class in the presence of their peers. Posting anonymously allows these students a means of expressing their views or thoughts without being the subject of scrutiny if they have a dissenting opinion with the majority of the class.

    In terms of Mathematics specifically, I shared some similar ideas with Matt. I feel as though flow occurs best on a written sheet of paper. Tools such as equation editor enable us to embed Mathematical symbols within a typed paper, but this can often be a tedious process. It makes sense for worksheets, note packets, quizzes and exams. These often need to be produced in great number for handouts to be given to students. However, note-taking is much easier on paper with the ability to circle words, write in the margins, and construct diagrams free-hand. These are all integral (no pun intended) to taking good notes in mathematics.

    Let us also not forget that technology is not infallible. As technology advances, there will be an increasing amount of viruses, spyware, adware, etc. It is important that we are multi-faceted and have more than one way to teach a lesson and give examples should the need arise. Certainly most of us can probably recall a time during our schooling in which the teacher couldn’t get something like the overhead projector to work so they had to resort to something else to teach.

    My last point references the “free” use of many sources available to us via the internet. While there is a large amount of information available that we are encouraged to share freely with one another, there are still authors who want to be compensated for their works when it is available online. Music and movies are not the only things that people pirate. People also download eBooks for free without the consent of the authors or publishers. Eventually, if illegal downloading isn’t limited, who knows what types of restrictions or regulations could be placed on our access to a valuable tool like the internet? That is something I doubt any of us wants to find out. For more information on that, you can check out a link .

    • Sorry, meant to hyperlink the last word of the sentence which should be “here.” You can click on the final period in the previous post or just click this link.

      Print Books Are Target of Pirates on the Web

  8. It’s the year 2009 and this is the age of the technology revolution. There seems to be a lot of debate on whether or not reading in the future will continue with the traditional usage of textbooks or will be strictly online. From my point of view, I can see advantages to both settings. However, I believe majority, key word here being majority, of all reading will be online.
    Students of today understand the internet. I’ve read that more students today are reading and writing than ever before and that is due in part to the internet. Think about it. Students today are blogging, using facebook, myspace, chat rooms and so much more. You name it, they’ve got it. What a great source of communication. Students have a larger audience to present things to, can critique the works of others or even add in their opinions on different topics. Not only has communication increased via the web, sources of information have become easily accessible. You can look up a topic for instance on or and have thousands of articles, blogs and information about that topic within 3 seconds. It’s amazing. You don’t have to pick up outdated, expensive textbooks or search around the library to find that one specific book anymore. Just type it in and press search! Although the internet has sparked a lot of interest, students need to be careful about what information they are receiving and where they are getting that information from. I’ve heard rumors that there’s a way to get into the wikipedia site and change information. Information that is no longer correct. Also, when it comes to using the internet or text messaging, most sentences are not complete and a lot of slang is used. As teachers, we need to work hard to educate our students on how to write words, sentences, paragraphs, essays and stories in a comprehensible way that others can understand. These are important skills to know when facing the real world. It’s not all about short texts.
    As far as textbooks are concerned, I think they will always have a presence. This doesn’t mean they will be utilized 100%. Maybe not even 50%. Having them there, however provides a tangible source for students who need clarification on something, or want to get more details about a topic. Teachers can use textbooks to guide them in their classrooms, but shouldn’t use them as their only source. As a student, I remember buying 10 textbooks my freshman year in college and being completely overwhelmed because it was assumed that I would have to read thousands of pages in each book. Not to mention these books were really expensive and heavy. Ok, I’m not even going to get into that part.
    If we can incorporate reading from both books and online, we could have the best of both worlds.

  9. The internet is a tremendous resource for classrooms, allowing students to reach outside the schoolhouse walls to follow their interests. Teachers and students can also use the web to interact with content, and each other, establishing conversations complete with inks to relevant information, where students can speak their minds feeling free to raise questions. Because students will feel so comfortable on the computer, and because the internet offers such a wealth of information, expensive textbooks will become less necessary, but not until every student has constant access to the internet, which may not be that far off. Perhaps, in short order, all reading material is transmitted electronically and this may have a significant impact on the way we read.
    A book does not exist in a vacuum, but rather represents a “node in a complex system of references” (Foucault). The web offers a method for readers to respond, annotate, and link to written material creating a virtual representation of the countless connections that adhere in all thoughtful prose. In such an environment, will it still be common to read a book cover to cover, or will readers pass through various literary works following whatever interest or train of thought happens to motivate their current research or meanderings?
    Though some benefits appear quite obvious, might anything be lost in the transition to this new medium? Navigating this complex web may sound as if it would be too difficult, but my concern is that it would be too easy. High powered search engines able to predict what you’re looking for, constantly supplying information to support established opinions that will certainly be added to thousands of comments written by thoughtful amateurs convinced by the interactive capacity of the medium that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Because of the rapid fire nature of electronic communication, seemingly ubiquitous consenting opinion, and an ego bolstered by the ease of mass communication, many may end up less willing to accommodate ideas contrary to their own, despite the enormous scope of available information. Gorged on unlimited access, we’ll make high speed connections, and fail to pause for the properly astonishing.

  10. I am in agreement with everyone that the future of reading is changing rapidly, and I must admit that it doesn’t thrill me to think that students of the future may never hold a real book. With all of the reading that I have done in my life, it saddens me to think that so much of what future students read will be on an electronic screen. While the amount of information that one can find online (about any subject, no matter how focused or obscure) is tremendous, the discoveries that anyone can make with a credible text in their hands still has a great amount of value. There is no feeling in the world like the great sense of accomplishment that accompanies finishing the last page of a book, especially one that you have truly found connections with. However, I could never make that statement about a traditional textbook that I had as a student in middle or high school, which is why we must work hard to help our students find the readings that inspire them.
    As Cal mentioned above with the filtering issues that can be so problematic to letting our students loose on the Internet to perform searches that are educationally valid, we as teachers are going to be very responsible for what we allow our students to be exposed to. I agree with Jeff when he said, the enormously complex web that is the Internet is not at all difficult to navigate…and wind up in a place that is neither desirable nor educational (to put it in the most politically correct phrasing!). It will be the teacher in the room that has to answer the questions of the parents or administrators that are concerned with Johnny’s browsing prowess into the non-educational sites.
    I do think that it will be a challenge that we as teachers will need to stay on top of in order to distinguish between that which is educationally valid and that which is not. As Subjects Matter states, it is important to have readings that help our students to see multiple sides of an issue but there is a dramatic difference between those which fuel a conversation, and those that only bring mindless nonsense to the classroom. I think that this will be among the biggest lessons that we can teach our students: the ability to differentiate between that which has credibility and that which does not, especially as the amount of information that they can have access to is growing at an exponential rate.

  11. I really liked the idea of “People so insightful you’d pay to download their footnotes” from Clive Thompson’s article. However I think it there is more to be said than that. When I think of all of the notes and references I’ve marked up my books with I wonder about other peoples- How marked up are your books with your thoughts?
    I would love to be able to read others’ margin notes and perceptions on the same things I’ve read. To see how others have connected literature with their own schema and backgrounds would be far more insightful than just reading the text at hand.
    Having books online makes knowledge and literature more accessible and more easily shared. The idea of being able to discuss a paragraph of a book with the entire world is mind blowing. Can you imagine the consequences of having a student in India and a student in the US compare thoughts on The Death of a Salesman? To be able to get such culturally different ideas on the same literature?
    I believe that this is an important tool to bring to schools in our “flat” world.
    The current “flattening” of our world certainly effects every aspect of life, including reading and literacy. Not only is sharing literature via the internet as Clive Thompson suggests a result of this flattening, but also the value of the reader has become more important.
    As a member of the Y generation-immediately after I read an article online or watch a youtube video I read the comments. What other consumers of this information think of it is almost, if not more, important to me than the actual article or video. This trend, of reading others opinions, weighting them against the issue at hand, and valuing them as greatly as the issue, is becoming easier and easier to do with the current tools, forums, and blogs online. If anything, it is making gen Y have a greater diversity of ideas and thought processes. This is an essential fact for teachers to use and take advantage of in their classrooms. Already students are thinking about their thinking in relation to others thinking. Mind boggling!! Isn’t that what we hope to all of our students to achieve in our subject areas? To think about our content and what, why, and how, they are thinking about it?
    If students are already doing this with youtube, celebrity gossip, blogs, etc then our jobs have become much easier! We just have to get them to do it about math or science!
    There is some talk about filtering, and yes the internet has some very pornographic and violent corners. But if we are think about the constructivist methods… of play, debrief, play, debrief, then really students who are reading celebrity blogs, or sports pages, or any other “non-educational” site and starting that process of gathering not only the information the author has presented but also the thoughts and opinions of readers have begun that first step-play. They are playing with meta cognition and comparative strategies. As teachers we just have to help with the debriefing process and redirect them towards our content and our objectives. It is important that we teach them how to use the internet without firewalls, or monitoring systems. Don’t you think?

    There has been a few comments about the obsolescence of written word… I don’t think that writing will ever become obsolete, it is a method of communication. How and where we do it will change, but I don’t think we will become dependent on spoken word.

  12. Daniels and Zemelman, in there interesting book regarding content area reading tell us:

    “With hocked gems financing him, our hero bravely defied all
    scornful laughter that trie to prevent his scheme. “Your eyes
    deceived” he said. “An egg not a table correctly typifies this
    unexplored planet.” Not three sturdy sisters sought proof.
    Forging along sometimes through calm vastness, yet more often
    over turbulent peaks and valleys. Days became weeks as many
    doubters spread fearful rumors about the edge. At last from
    somewhere, welcomed winged creatures appeared signifying
    momentus success.” (pg. 26-27)

    Having never read this passage before, and having no frame of reference in which to place it, this writing was difficult for me to process or to correctly place. Adding the word Columbus did in fact change everything.

    This writing helped to provide a glimpse for me to look into what it must feel like for many students as they encounter the vast amounts of new curriculum that they are expected to master each school semester in the “Mile Wide – Inch Deep” curriculum that graces many of our school systems today.

    With little time for determining prior student knowledge, many teachers forge ahead, asking students to read and digest information which will be hopelessly lost with weeks of regurgitating it for the test. And to think about discussion to prime the students prior to the reading, many teachers say they just don’t have time for that.

    How prepared are learners today. With the vast technological resources available to students, parents and teachers, shouldn’t it be easier than this? What will become of the students in our rush towards mediocracy.

  13. Using the internet as an interface for promoting reading is a wonderful idea. As often quoted, the digital age is now. Unleashed like a torrent, the web allows access to a virtual sea of information. Students from around the world have access to data, and can exchange ideas in seconds. But like the deadly rip currents drowning the innocent on our beautiful sunlight beaches, many potential “swimmers” are literally drowning in a virtual sea of information.

    Mary mentioned some potential problems in an earlier post such as access and availability and potential that students with special needs may not be able to participate. These are valid issues. High speed internet access, seen as important as milk and bread to many households, may be only available as a subsidized lunch to others.

    For many living in urban areas, library access is a valid option, if there is an accessible library, and that library has computers, and also internet services.

    Some areas do not have suitable public access or it is woefully inadequate. In Arkansas for example, if you live in a rural area, you may have a problem. Many of the states libraries lack the ability to meet the most basic needs of their patrons. Last I checked… Arkansas wasn’t even a third world country. At least I pretty sure it’s not.

    Many who have high speed access, and can afford it, may think that we all can be connected, just as easy as pie, but it’s simply not the case quite yet.

    While having a disability or having learning disabilities may not preclude a person from using the web, as a general measure, it can certainly make things a bit more challenging. Having the physical dexterity and skill to type can be a significant limiting factor and while speech recognition software is available, it is far from universal and can be expensive. Visual processing and other special needs present specific challenges which may be met in the classroom with accommodations which may be absent at home. ADHD + Google could possibly equal 72 hours of reading on everything except what is due next Tuesday.

    What would education look like if all students had free high speed access at home and every kid, parent, and school where connected. The technology is there now. There are roughly 126,000 schools educating the 55 million school age children attending school each year.With an average of 2.1 kids per household, that works out to only about 26 million necessary connections to get all of our kids online, right now, at home and at school.

    It’s reported that over 80% of homes have a computer at home and of those 92% already have internet access. Many newer cell phones can now serve as both a phone and as a modem which can be hooked up directly to your laptop of desktop computer further bringing that number of the unconnected down.

    When all is said and done, that number is much, much smaller that it was even 3 years ago and it is shrinking daily. If the internet was fully utilized and supported as an educational resource, there might be 10 or 15 million households requiring help with a connection. At $20 per month per subscription (group discount would apply right?) that’s roughly $20 million to $30 million per month.

    To put it in perspective…… what the U.S. gov’t spent on Iraq and Afghanistan last month would pay for 36 years of internet service for the students listed in the example above. If a high speed connection were provided for all of the 26 million households, then at $20 per month, on what will be spent this month to maintain our ongoing war would pay for every household in the United States with school age children to have a high speed connection for the next 17 years.


    Why is it again that are all of our children are not connected????

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