So the unending debate over whether or not reading on the Internet is “really” reading gets played out  once again in this New York Times piece titled “Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?” It’s the story of a “typical” family where the kids are online some six hours a day reading and writing at among other places. There’s not too much hand wringing on the part of the parents, however, who say things like “I’m just pleased that she reads something anymore.”


So here’s the crux of the debate:

As teenagers’ scores on standardized reading tests have declined or stagnated, some argue that the hours spent prowling the Internet are the enemy of reading — diminishing literacy, wrecking attention spans and destroying a precious common culture that exists only through the reading of books.

But others say the Internet has created a new kind of reading, one that schools and society should not discount. The Web inspires a teenager like Nadia, who might otherwise spend most of her leisure time watching television, to read and write.

Kudos to the “experts” who note the difference with reading online:

What is different now, some literacy experts say, is that spending time on the Web, whether it is looking up something on Google or even, entails some engagement with text…In fact, some literacy experts say that online reading skills will help children fare better when they begin looking for digital-age jobs.

So here is the interesting question for me: do we need to teach online reading? Some think not:

Some simply argue that reading on the Internet is not something that needs to be tested — or taught. “Nobody has taught a single kid to text message,” said Carol Jago of the National Council of Teachers of English and a member of the testing guidelines committee. “Kids are smart. When they want to do something, schools don’t have to get involved.”

Don’t they? I think they do. I think that we have to help our kids navigate online reading spaces and provide an appropriate balance between print and digital environments. I think we have to help kids process and track and organized the things that they read, teach them to respond in effective ways, teach them to interact and become participants in the process in ways that don’t restrict their passion and creativity but also give them some context for what they are doing.

Read the whole thing. All in all, it’s a pretty interesting back and forth between old readers and young, and the bottom line is that it’s obvious that’s it’s something we need to be thinking of as we think about reading curricula and pedagogy.

(Photo “what am i reading?” by jamelah.)