The Writer had a great time at the Texas State Reading Association conference in Austin. She always enjoys meeting reading teachers and getting their ideas and views. The weather was lovely and everyone was so nice. Texas is one friendly state! The best part of these conferences is that everyone has the same goal: helping children read.
This time, though, The Writer experienced an undercurrent of concern, of something wrong. A girls' basketball tournament was going on in town and the teams were staying at the hotel. One morning The Writer rode the elevator down with a group of young girls. They were all reading--their cellphones.
One of the speakers, Dr. David Chard, talked about the New Media reader, the kids who do most of their reading on the Internet and cellphones. Parents and teachers used to say, when kids read comic books or series books, "Well, at least they are reading," and it was true. Often they moved on to more challenging literature.
But readers of cellphones and the Internet are reading fragments. They aren't likely to move on to books where they can't select the content as easily. So now the challenge is to help readers at the very beginning levels, to hook them early on books. Hmmm. While The Writer was skimming across TV channels (she does not have TV at home), she saw a commercial for a hand-held computer for the youngest children, to help them "learn." It seems as if new products--shiny and dazzling and techy--spring up constantly to undercut the already difficult job of getting kids to enjoy reading.
Another speaker mentioned the inspirational book Three Cups of Tea, about a young man who began building schools in remote areas of the world. The Writer was reminded that there are still places in the world where people can't read, where they want to learn, where they don't have books.
The Writer had a fleeting thought that reaching our children today is almost like going to remote villages and teaching people to read. The difference is, the villagers are willing to put down their tools and pick up books. Will our kids be so willing to put down their techy toys and pick up a book?