I started my second teaching job full-time last week and it has been going non-stop since then, with podcasting, and having four new preps, and now being handed the head baseball coach position as well. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I am doing, but I can’t seem to not feel like I am missing some parts of my life that I should be enjoying right now. I feel I am just skimming things off the top of each part of my life and not allowing myself to go deep, and each facet of my life has suffered because of it. It’s no one’s fault but my distracted self. But this got me thinking about how I can change the way I do things, especially reading.
As a social studies teacher, I constantly doing a lot of reading. And with four preps covering three different time periods and four different regions of the world, it’s no wonder that I feel like I am missing something. The reason for that? I am skim reading everything. I skim read my texts from Rachael. I skim read the 16 ballot questions in the elections last week. I skim read the email I got from my new principal this week and the health insurance person. We do it all of the time. I couldn’t tell you the last time, outside of reading for fun before bed, that I actually read for comprehension. And that’s a problem. You know whats another problem? That my brain, and the brains of other people in our digital world have been trained to be skim readers.
HISTORY TEACHER ALERT!!!!!
Skim reading isn’t a new phenomenon. We have been doing it since Egyptian times when the Pharaoh Akhenaten pretended to not read the note in hieroglyphics Nefertiti slipped him about cleaning out the litter boxes of those giant cats that protect the dead or gateway to hell where they rule with an iron fist…I mean paw. We experienced it in the late 1800s before the start of Spanish-American War. We were so focused on gaining land for the “American Empire” that we didn’t stop to think if the Spanish really did blow up the USS Maine in the Havana harbor. (Spoiler Alert: They didn’t) They were just such warmongering imbeciles that any news written to the contrary was ignored.
Just like today.
Without getting into the political game, most people read what they want, when they want, and how they want. People read highly in-depth stories about political scandals and just search for keywords like “Murder” or “Bribes” or “Emails” or “Clinton” or “Trump”. If those keywords are there, they might take the time to read the surrounding sentences, but if not, they are less likely to dig deep into the issue. The same can be said about students and literature. I remember that when I was in school my favorite book was “Of Mice and Men”. You know why? Because it was the only book that I actually read cover to cover in high school (Sorry Mrs. Allen and Ms. Forbes). Students are not reading the texts that we give them because they require deep intellectual thought that the digital generation is slowly losing touch with.
Trust me. I am not going to sit here and bash skim readers and tech natives without cause or research. I just didn’t want to bore you with it (you know, before your attention span disappeared). There is real data to back all of this up.
Ziming Liu of San Jose State University says that “Skimming” is the new norm. People are now reading in a Z or F pattern when they read instead of line by line. They are taking a gander at the first line of the text and then they scan down the page until they spot something their brain deems to be important. The problem with this is that more and more people are reading these words with less and less context. They are not critically and deeply thinking about what they just read. Deep reading has become an inconvenience to most people in our high-speed, ultra-fast communication world outside of academics. But this type of reading has trickle down effects.
I am not talking about giving all of your life savings to a Nigerian “prince” because you didn’t read the “terms of agreement” when you download iTunes 64 on your desktop. I am talking about life saving consequences. In one study done about teens who read on tablets versus students who read with physical books, the students who read the story were not only able to recall more of the material in the text, but better retell the sequence of events in the story. Why is this critical? Let me put it to you this way…
When I started teaching the 6th grade technology class my second year teaching, I wanted them to understand how critical it was that they follow directions. So to do so, I had them write out for me the directions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was looking for the most thorough directions ever. What I got was, “Take the peanut butter, put it on the bread, take the jelly, put in on the bread, then eat.” What I made for many of them was nothing short of a mess with six slices of bread per sandwich and a tiny dollop of peanut butter with massive quantities of jelly. It was a mess. What they realized is that directions are extremely important.
What we need to realize is how important it is to spend time with students, including our own kids, practicing reading for comprehension. Why? Because the last thing I need when I go in to get my first colonoscopy is for some medical skim reader giving me complete and total different kind of exam because he skimmed the section on colonoscopy training in medical school.
Thanks for reading and for not skimming. People’s butts are on the line.