I work at a school where our literacy and numeracy are both areas of concern. Not because our students are not making progress – they are, often in advance of the expectations of other similar schools, but because many of our students start below average and sometimes struggle to reach that benchmark. It is what it is; an average necessarily means that someone has to be below it but I would prefer that it’s not my students.
Literacy acquisition remains to me to be a deeply fascinating subject; I’ve worked with lots of English Language Learners and been surprised at the way that some students seem to grasp the meaning in a piece of text quickly, while others really struggle to work out what has been said. There are lots of reasons for this – ranging from pattern recognition to more complex issues, but one thing that I’ve found that seems to play a large role is students recognising that reading is an active process; that is, we, as readers, co-construct meaning alongside the authors. It’s a two-way process – the writer or author puts words on a page, but readers have to interact and interpret those symbols and words in order to make meaning. Any break in the chain, and you’re left with incomprehensibility, and not meaning.
But many weaker readers don’t get that. They seem to think that reading is a passive activity. If they flick their eyes along the page, they’ll pick up meaning. This kind of shallow reading works, to some extent, for basic comprehension, but when it comes to deeper reading – trying to identify authorial intent, to infer meaning and so on, then it falls flat. I’ve had great success in improving learning outcomes by teaching students to read more thoroughly; that is, to be active in their reading.
With the advent of iBooks, I think I’ve hit upon an even more exciting way of building interactivity into the reading process. I’m currently in the process of designing an iBook (Mr Hall’s Class and the Apostrophe Catastrophe – coming soon) where I am trying to make use of an iBook’s built in widgets to enhance interactivity. Of course, there are widgets like galleries and keynotes all of which can go some way to ‘gamifying’ the reading process, but I think we can think even further out of the box – using buttons with no border and no fill to create hidden object games.
It’s early days, but I think that things like iBooks have the capability to build interactivity into the reading process. And if they can do it in a way that’s fun and exciting for the readers, then so much the better.