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Another Voice: Deep reading is the cure for screen time disorders

By Gail Fischer

The National Endowment for the Arts made an alarming prediction following a 2014 survey of literacy in America, that in half a century reading books as an elective activity will disappear. Only 17 percent of students aged 6 to 17 said they are given time for self-determined daily reading during school, according to research reported by the International Literacy Association. The lure of technology probably means many read even less at home.

I’ve long believed the key to a child’s success lies in discovery of what he or she, uniquely, loves. Once a young person finds a subject thrilling there is no stopping the thirst for knowing more and more about it. Teachers and parents facilitate this impassioned learning all the time, and so do books.

News flash. No one ever found a flat glass rectangle so compelling. Human beings only get addicted to screens, and at increasingly disturbing rates. Social deprivations – loneliness and isolation from losing time with friends and family members face to face – are one result. Too much staring into screens also leads to cognitive changes now held responsible for people doing less and less critical thinking. The latest studies have identified a “problem solving deficit disorder” in our children – the brand new and astonishing PSDD.

Experts offer what they call “deep reading” as an effective and meaningful remedy to PSDD. Why? Because an eager student can actually interrogate a text. When adults engage in “dialogic reading” with children we are modeling exactly how this works.

Those who study the long-term effects of screen exposure note that, while folks who get their books on Kindle could easily scroll back to question and explore and verify, in fact they seldom do. Books are accessible instantly. And they always open for us if the power goes out.

No one is arguing against computers and iPads in our classrooms. But researchers are recommending that we teach “bi-literacy” and “bi-digital” skill sets in a 50/50 balance. This would be a leveling of the playing field compared with the tipping of the scales emphatically toward technology that we see today.

What’s more, they stress the value of “high quality, diverse and appealing” books that spark, enhance and hold a child’s imaginative interest. The International Literacy Association proposes that an “effective” classroom would shelve a “minimum of 10 books per student, or an average of 300 books.” That means we ought to have a dynamic, actual library in every class.

Let’s get passionate about educating young people to discover what they’ll find vivid, satisfying and authentic throughout their lives. Let’s teach socially interactive skills that will give them courage, self-esteem and hope. We can welcome an exciting new generation of leisure reading addicts.

Gail Fischer is a literacy volunteer with Read to Succeed Buffalo Inc. at Waterfront Elementary School.

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