New Forms of Reading and Writing

As I am coaching teachers in learning how to learn and teach FOR the 22nd century, I realize that the gap between being able to read traditional forms of information, communications materials in general and reading on new platforms, in new genres and in general new digital forms is widening drastically.

Not too long ago, I wrote a post titled, Our Notion of Literacy and Iliteracy Calls for an Update.

 I define literacy as the ability to read and write and being able to express and communicate our ideas to others.

So, in our world, which is BOTH analog AND digital, we need to be literate in both. Especially if we are educators, in charge of teaching our students to be literate for THEIR future. The digital world is not going away, nor can it be ignored in terms of being and staying (critically) informed, lifelong learning, communicating, connecting, collaborating and contributing.

One realisation for me was that new forms of reading and writing did not ONLY have to do with the skillset of learning the logistics of how to read and write on digital platforms, but had EVERYTHING to do with a new mindset that allows for new forms of reading and writing versus merely substituting the way we have done it in analog form before.

While reading in analog forms, we are mostly used to reading alone, mostly silently in our heads (unless you are in an elementary school classroom). We read in a linear form, punctuation telling us when to take a breath in our reading, when to stop and when to start again. Sentences/paragraphs/pages lead us from one sentence/paragraph/page to another, reading in chronological order articles/chapters and ultimately finishing the newspaper/magazine/book, etc.

Where does reading and writing on a digital platform such as Twitter fit in? Suddenly,

  • we are not reading in “pre-set” paragraphs or chapters, but in constantly updating feeds. Everytime we “pick up” Twitter instead of a book, we are “holding” a different feed in our hands. Never to be the same as the one we picked up not even 5 minutes ago.
  • we are not reading in a linear form, but are constantly confronted with links to click on, to jump in no particular pre-set order or intentions by the author to read in a multi-layered form.
  • we are reading only part of a (potential) whole. A whole that that contains a fragmented conversation, that requires us to fluently connect to threaded comments and #hashtags to be able to read a backchannel to a conversation that is happening in the “front”.
  • we are reading “always with an eye out” to take care of our network. Are we reading about new voices who have the potential to add value to our learning or are there voices who stopped contributing and it’s time to let go including them in our network? Are we reading about something that would someone in our network interest or benefit? What can we funnel on to our network?
  • we are reading “in the moment” not letting us be disturbed by the fact, that we are missing out on everything that was written and shared while we were not online to attend to our feed. We don’t go back in time, but rely on our filters to receive information that was meant to reach us and that we are specifically interested in.
  • we are “harvesting” new people to read by looking through valuable contributions in Twitter Chats/#hashtag conversations, by checking out Twitter Lists or who people we admire chose to follow. We also amplify our reading to look at users’ profile to find their blogs.
  • we are writing as part of a crowdsourced/archived/searchable conversation/documentation over time (asynchronous).
  • we are writing in concise 280 characters or less, that is intended for a “liquid” audience. An audience, that we might never know or hear from or receive unexpected feedback, an audience from all around the globe, an audience that can multiply depending on how others share and disseminate our writing to their own network.
  • we are writing hyperlinked to connect and support our thinking/ideas to the breadcrumbs of our previous readings/documentation/resources/etc.
  • we are writing with #hashtags to amplify the reach of our audience, to connect to other conversations of people we do not have in our network, to add value to a multidimensional (across time and space) feed.
  • we are writing to specifically mention someone to catch their attention, letting them know that we are paying attention, encourage them to give us feedback, or ask them to interact with us in other forms.
  • we are writing to receive (often) immediate feedback in forms of likes, re-tweets, or replies.
  • we are embedding emojis to support the meaning, intentions and content of our writing.

This is only one example of online reading and writing. Twitter is a platform that will not allow a user to merely substitute their traditional analog reading and writing skills, practices or habits to gain the full benefits of the potential and redefining forms of reading and writing. Each digital platform, such as Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, blogs, etc., has their own unique reading and writing etiquette, form and syntax.

Who is teaching our students to read and write in new forms?