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  • 1Reading at a Million Crossroads: Massively Pluralized Practices and Conceptions of ReadingDouglas K. Hartman and Paul M. Morsink, Michigan State UniversityManuscript prepared for inclusion in:Spiro, R., DeSchrvyer, M., Schira-Hagerman, M., Morsink, P., & Thompson, P. (Editors).Reading at a Crossroads? Disjunctures and Continuities in Current Conceptions and Practices.Routledge Press.
  • 2We have been asked to answer the question whether reading today is “at a crossroads.”Our answer, in short, is yes—yes many, many times over. As we indicate in our title, and as weillustrate in the following pages, our view is that recent years have seen a massive pluralizationof practices and conceptions of reading catalyzed by the rapid spread and deep penetration ofInternet-based Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), especially the Web.Of course, these ICTs have not, by themselves, magically brought about new practicesand conceptions of reading. Practices and conceptions arise and then persist within a particularsocio-cultural-historical-material matrix (Gee, 2001; Gutierrez & Stone, 2000; Halliday, 1978;Smagorinsky, 2001; Vygotsky, 1978). Consequently, when a new technology is introduced, itsimpact is mediated by a long list of factors. Only gradually—and by dint of recursive processesmarked by selective adoption and use, gradual discovery and negotiation of the new technology’saffordances and constraints, the emergence of new communities of practice, and some amount ofcreative re-purposing by users—does the impact of a new technology eventually come intofocus.Still, bearing in mind that new technologies never transform conceptions and practices ina straightforwardly linear or predictable manner, there is no question that ICTs in recent yearshave put reading tools of unprecedented power and versatility at the fingertips of millions andnow billions of “ordinary” readers (Internet World Stats, 2011). With these tools, readers with allsorts of reading backgrounds and ability levels have discovered, in aggregate, millions of newways to locate, select, navigate, sequence, filter, internally search, translate, (re)format, decode,summarize, excerpt, transmediate, remix, store, and share a rapidly expanding universe of oldand new types of texts, on screens big and small, for a growing variety of reading purposes,public and private, formal and informal.
  • 3Consequently, we do not believe it makes sense any longer—if it ever did—to speak ofreading as a unitary construct (see Duke, 2005) that could ever find “itself” all of a sudden at a(singular) crossroads. Instead, and as a result of the massive pluralization of ways people read,types of texts available to be read, and purposes for reading, we see a parallel massivepluralization of crossroads. When we look around, we see a 21st century reading landscapewhere (to continue with the metaphor of travel, roads, and crossroads) readers constantly findthemselves at crossroads, facing a bewildering—or exhilarating—array of choices about what toread, how to read, what reading-assistive technologies to use, how to document or archive theirreading, with whom to share their reading (synchronously or asynchronously), and how to(re)conceive the very idea of reading.Of course, insofar as reading is construed as an activity whereby readers mentally,socially, and materially construct meaning with texts (as opposed to simply receiving orregistering meaning in the manner of a supermarket bar-code scanner “reading” a bar code),reading everywhere, at every time, has always been at many crossroads. That is to say, everyhuman act of reading (every act of making meaning with texts) has always involved someamount of crossroads-like choice or decision (e.g., “Must I read these printed words out loud tograsp their full meaning, or is it okay to read them silently inside my head?” “Does this word Ithink I’m mispronouncing have a correct pronunciation, and how can I be sure?” “Should Iconnect what I’m reading right now to other texts I’ve read before on the same topic?” “Can Itrust the sincerity and accuracy of the statements I’m reading?” “Does my understanding of thesentences I just read need to agree with what other readers say these sentences mean?” and soon). In this sense, reading everywhere, at all times, for all readers, has always happened at one ormore crossroads, and what is new or different today may simply be the frequency with which
  • 4more readers than before consciously see themselves at a crossroads, aware of having to make achoice or decision of some kind, or perhaps simply aware for the first time of the great variety ofdifferent kinds of choices or decisions that readers are able to make, the number of differentpaths and means of transportation they can take on their various meaning-making journeys.Crossroads pastThe idea that reading has always taken many plural forms and has always, in every era,been perceived, experienced and navigated differently by different readers is given empiricalsupport by historians and sociologists of reading (e.g., Darnton, 1998; Griswold, McDonnell, &Wright, 2005; Rose, 2001). Given our limited space, we provide just two brief illustrations.Our first takes us to Great Britain in the late 1700s and early 1800s. This period in Britainsaw the emergence and rapid spread of a range of new genres and formats of texts (in particular,an explosion of new forms of “functional literature”) that quickly became ubiquitous: trainschedules, trade catalogs, route maps, invoices, product advertising, and distance charts(Vincent, 1989). Historians and sociologists have investigated how these new forms of text, andtheir sudden importance in everyday life, created the necessity of a more highly literate publicand gave rise to new experiences of reading and new strategies for reading. For example,Esbester (2009) documents the reading culture that grew up around the Bradshaw traintimetable--a timetable and travel planner that allowed readers to find the arrival and departuretimes of trains from all stations in Great Britain. While useful--indeed, indispensable--to many,“the Bradshaw” was also known for its “fiendish complexity” (156). It challenged millions toread in new ways, to acquire new knowledge of novel text features and structures, to hone newpage-level reading strategies, to navigate across texts with new inter-textual reading skills, and todevelop new attitudes and dispositions toward reading. Readers of course coped with these
  • 5challenges in different ways, with varying success. The big picture, though, was one ofsignificant change in the reading activities of millions of people.1Our second brief illustration focuses on the emergence and rapid spread of an assistivetechnology for reading: writing tables. Dating back to at least the early fifteenth century, writingtables (or simply “tables,” for short) were pocket-sized notebooks containing blank, wax-coatedpages that could be written on and then wiped clean (Powers, 2011). Besides reducing theirowner’s consumption of expensive paper, tables contributed to what we are calling the“pluralization of reading” on at least a couple of fronts. In the first place, they changed whatmany readers did during reading. With an erasable notebook ready at hand, readers could quicklyrecord important information and exact quotations. This was a change in material practice, and italso altered the quality of a reader’s mental engagement with what s/he was reading. Forexample, less mental energy had to be devoted to committing new information to memory; moremental energy could be devoted to the kind of mental processing involved in discerningimportant ideas and concisely summarizing them.2Later, when a tables user opened his notebookand read his earlier notes and scribbles, a different kind of reading unfolded. Now the readerengaged in a reconstructive activity, using his notes and maybe some exactly copied excerptsfrom the original text to solidify his understanding, synthesize new and old information, ormaybe apply what he had read to a new context. No doubt, readers used writing tables in a great1We do not have the means to compare this period of pluralization with our own with any degreeof quantitative precision. Our broad claim is that the pluralization we are witnessing today faroutstrips anything seen before in terms of both speed and scale. We acknowledge, however, thatin some particular communities of urban readers, the early 19th century may have beenperceived very much as we perceive ours--as a period of “massive pluralization.”2See, for example, Britton’s (1980) study of readers’ varying levels of cognitive activity andcognitive load during reading depending on whether they expect to be tested on their recall ofinformation immediately after reading or, on the other hand, after a delay. (The study’s resultssuggested that readers expecting the delayed test engaged in additional cognitive processingoperations.) Or see studies designed to assess the benefits to memory and learning of note takingduring reading (e.g., Makany, Kemp, & Dror, 2008).
  • 6variety of ways, many of which are lost to us forever. The basic point, though, is that a newreading-related, comprehension-assistive tool had far-reaching impacts on how people conceivedof reading, the particular procedures and strategies they applied during reading, and so forth.There are many other historical examples that suggest the same fundamental point:reading activity has always taken many plural forms (see Blair, 2003; Eisenstein, 2005; Febvre &Martin, 1976; Rose, 2001). In this regard, there is nothing exceptional about the presenthistorical moment. What is exceptional is simply that, today, the rapid pluralization is on a scalethat eclipses any seen before. With hundreds of millions of people around the globe now usingthe Web daily (de Argaez, 2011), and a fast-growing array of digital tools to annotate,summarize, transmediate, and more, we see a dramatic acceleration in the diversification ofchoices, practices, and conceptions. What’s more, the phenomenon involves both a massivepluralization across readers (i.e., increasing variability in how different people, or differentgroups of people, read) and a massive pluralization within readers (i.e., increasing range withinindividual readers’ repertoires of reading practices and conceptions, too). These changesdramatically underscore the fact that the term reading is a moving target, forever shifting groundin relation to changing tasks, purposes, text formats, reading-assistive tools, and otherdynamically interacting factors. As Leu (1997) presciently argued some years ago, reading is“deictic” (p. 62); what it indicates here, today, is not the same as what it will indicate there (orhere), tomorrow.We are aware that, to some readers, this talk of “massive pluralization” and of the“deictic” nature of reading may seem hyperbolic. To put some flesh on the bones of ourargument, we therefore offer four composite vignettes of contemporary readers reading—readersof different ages reading for a variety of purposes with a range of text types in different contexts.
  • 7Four readers reading(1) Sarah sits cross-legged with a touch-screen iPad in her lap, swiping through the pagesof a digitally enhanced picture ebook. The ebook is programmed to speak out loud the alphabetictext on each page, but Sarah changes this default setting with a quick tap of her finger on theloudspeaker icon at the top of the screen. With this change, tapping once on individual wordsnow allows Sarah to hear them pronounced one at a time; double-tapping lets her hear themspelled out, letter by letter. Doing either of these things makes words and letters change color tovisually reinforce the correspondence between letters or words and their sounds. Additionally, ifshe is so inclined, Sarah can tap a large microphone icon on the screen to record her own voiceas she decodes words and narrates the story herself. Then she can tap the sideways-triangle playbutton to listen to her own recorded voice and the ebook’s pre-recorded voice one after theother—to compare them and check her pronunciation, or simply to goof around and have fun.Finally, on a subset of the ebook’s pages, Sarah quickly locates a video camera icon. By tappingon these camera icons, she can play short video clips that provide additional information toenhance her understanding and enjoyment of the story. For example, in a fanciful illustratedstory about the adventures of two migrating barn swallows, Sarah can watch a 30-second clipshowing how real swallows build their nests from mud and plant fibers. Sarah is four years old.(2) Amado sits at a public library desktop computer doing online research for his group-authored social studies paper on the fall of the Roman Empire--though you perhaps wouldn’tguess it by looking over his shoulder. Right now he is playing a free download of a real-timestrategy game called “Nemesis of the Roman Empire.” There are “live,” constantly updating,annotated maps for him to monitor showing the embattled northern border regions of the RomanEmpire, and in the game’s main window there are a myriad of decisions for him to make about
  • 8where to send his remaining legions and how to keep them supplied. Periodically, Amadotoggles to a different window on his screen to read and reply to short text messages from hisclassmates Greg and Sasha who are playing other games. Greg texts that he is enjoying the game“Glory of the Roman Empire,” in which he plays the role of a Roman city planner. Sasha writesthat she has just finished exploring the free trial version of “Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome”and is now re-reading the webpage where their teacher posted the assignment guidelines for theirresearch paper alongside two traditional, encyclopedia-style articles describing the main causesof the fall of the Roman Empire. Now that they have read the two articles and played the games,the next step in the assignment is for Amado, Greg, and Sasha to make two lists: a list of detailsin the strategy games that seemed inaccurate or misleading in light of what they learned from thescholarly articles, and a list of game features that deepened or enriched their understanding of thearticles. Amado and his classmates are seventeen years old.(3) Elena sits on her couch with her paper copy of Time magazine. Her neighbor Gladisrecently came over with her new touchscreen tablet and showed Elena what a digitally enhancedissue of Time looks like, with embedded video clips, links to additional content, and instantaccess to word definitions, a text-to-voice feature, discussion boards, and more. On balance,Elena prefers her print copy. Among other things, she likes the fact that, with her print copy, shecan tear out the ad pages and give them to her three-year-old son to draw on. She also likes thefact that, with her print copy, her reading time isn’t interrupted by incoming emails, texts, tweets,Skype calls, or any other form of electronic communication. At work, she sits at a computerscreen for upwards of six hours per day. Reading her print copy of Time feels like a welcomebreak from that. Elena also believes that, when she reads print, she has more reading stamina andsustained attention than she does at her computer, and she likes the way that feels; she will finish
  • 9an entire article in her print copy of Time without once taking her eyes off the page. At the sametime, she concedes that, when an article really sparks her interest, she sometimes wishes shecould immediately click to another article on a related topic, as she would online. By the timeshe is back at her computer at work the next day, she rarely has time to follow up. Elena is thirty-five years old.(4) Seth sits at his desk studying an online, annotated edition of the Christian NewTestament. In separate tabs of his web browser, he actually has four different annotated editionsopen side by side, and he occasionally clicks back and forth to compare the wording of particularsentences. As he reads and compares synoptically, Seth also adds annotations using a free webtool called Diigo. Using Diigo, he types his observations, questions, and reflections, and digitallyattaches them on his screen to the particular sentence or word that triggered them. Every time headds a Diigo annotation, he can choose to make the note visible to all other Diigo users or tolimit its visibility. Seth belongs to a Bible study group, so he chooses the option that makes hisannotations visible to only his group-mates. As he continues reading, he sees a notification popup that another member of his group has just now posted a note on the very same page he iscurrently reading. He scans the note—it’s a question about whether vineyards in the Book ofMatthew have a particular symbolic significance—and it piques his interest. He decides to do asearch for all the uses of the word vineyard in the Book of Matthew. Working from the searchresults page, he spends a few minutes reading across all the verses containing the word vineyard.As a next step, he searches all the public annotations of the Book of Matthew for itemscontaining both vineyard and symbol. He is pleasantly surprised to find that several other readershave posted comments and reflections on the very question that now interests him. Triangulatinghis group-mate’s question, a particularly resonant verse in the Book of Matthew, and two of the
  • 10public annotations he has just read, Seth starts to type a new comment of his own. And this timehe opts to make his annotation “public to all” so anyone using Diigo can read it. Seth is seventyyears old.Dimensions of changeThe foregoing vignettes highlight practices and experiences of reading that vary alongseveral dimensions. They vary (among other things) with respect to (a) the types of textsinvolved, in terms of genre and format, each with its own particular affordances and constraints(e.g., Frow, 2005); (b) the types of cognitive processes that are activated and supported (or, onthe other hand, challenged or inhibited) in the reader’s mind, mostly below the threshold ofconsciousness (e.g., LaBerge & Samuels, 1974); (c) the types of social and affective processesthat are engaged and supported (or challenged or inhibited) (e.g., Au, 1998); (d) the types oflearned skills and conscious strategies that are activated or perhaps required for successfulcomprehension (e.g., Afflerbach & Cho, 2009); and (e) the types of material and logisticalresources that are involved or required (e.g., Darnton, 1990, 1998).Furthermore, these dimensions are complexly interconnected, such that a change in onedimension may have ripple effects in others, which may in turn cause further ripple effects.Consider, for example, the addition to a text of a few simple within-text hyperlinks (providingreaders with new ways to navigate the text and also highlighting connections between ideas andinformation beyond those directly stated, in words, in the text’s prose). The addition of thesehyperlinks may have multiple repercussions. Some readers (those new to hyperlinks, forinstance) may experience distraction and cognitive overload as they click on the links and criss-cross the text along multiple non-linear paths, losing track of where they started and where theywere going. Other readers may quickly develop new strategies--or adapt old ones--to take
  • 11advantage of the new text’s affordances. They may spend additional time clarifying theirpurpose(s) for reading before they start reading, or they may become more disciplined abouttaking notes while reading. Still other readers may find themselves experiencing more frustrationthan before because their hardware and software configuration is such that the text freezes upwhenever they click on a hyperlink.In vignettes such as those sketched above, we thus see a variety of aspects of reading thatare evolving—dynamically evolving—and that are likely to continue evolving for theforeseeable future. In some cases, for some readers, the shifts are rapid and dramatic and across-the-board; in other cases, reading activity may be changing in just one or two particular areas,and at a modest rate.3For all readers, though, a starter list of areas of possible change include thefollowing:● how much time is allotted for reading;● when and where reading happens;● how much it costs to read something (in terms of money, time, effort, etc.);● how much choice and freedom readers have regarding what to read and how to read it;3We have noticed that a discourse of requirement and necessity--of certain things being“required” of readers or “necessary” for reading—is frequently used these days by those trying todescribe and theorize the complex ways in which new literacies are emerging and taking root.For example, Leu, Zawilinski, Castek, Banerjee, Housand, Liu, et al. (2007) write about the“skills required to read and comprehend information online” (our emphasis, p. 58) as well as thenew reading skills that “the Internet requires” (our emphasis, p. 56). We are uncomfortable withthe word “required” and its variants (though we ourselves are guilty of using it now and then)because it seems to imply a deterministic view of the impact of technology on reading. Whenone speaks of skills or strategies that are “required” for comprehension of a webpage, forexample, one loses sight of the point we have tried to make--that reading happens in manydifferent ways, that readers face choices, and that readers are continually at a crossroads.Rhetorically, use of the word “required” also often goes hand in hand with formulations that giveagency to abstractions or to inanimate things--as when Leu et al. (2007) write about what “theInternet requires.” This way of talking--and thinking--downplays the role and agency ofindividuals and communities of readers and risks obscuring the reality of reading being deicticand always happening “at a crossroads.”
  • 12● the extent to which reading is interspersed or intertwined with writing activity;● the extent to which reading is experienced and conceived as a kind of composing orauthoring activity, with every reader assembling a unique text-of-the-moment by virtue ofchoosing a particular path across hyperlinked page and text elements;● the extent to which reading activity is in principle recordable and retrievable, or is in factroutinely recorded and later retrieved (e.g., through a web browser “history” log ofwebpages visited, etc.);● the extent to which a variety of reading supports are available and used (e.g., text-to-voice tools, word pronunciation audio clips, within-text search tools, etc.);● the extent to which reading is orchestrated and experienced as a social activity thatunfolds in the literal or virtual presence of others, with input from other readers, or undertheir more indirect influence;● the extent to which the reader has choices—and is aware of having choices—regardingthe material form or formatting of the primary text being read (e.g., font, page layout,marginalia hidden or visible)—regardless of whether any of these options are in factexercised by the reader;● the extent to which reading is experienced as being potentially or in fact a “broadcast”activity (i.e., an activity that can be made visible and shared with an audience, whetherformally or informally, through screencast recordings, shared annotations and comments,etc.);● the extent to which a given text or a given reading “event” involves more than onesemiotic system;
  • 13● the extent to which reading is anticipated and experienced as being potentially or in factmultimodal and multisensory;● the extent to which, and frequency with which, reading entails encountering unfamiliar orentirely unprecedented genres and formats of text.Overlapping waves of changeLooking out across today’s landscape of massively pluralized and still rapidly pluralizingforms of reading, our view is that a new lens—maybe a new framework—may be needed to helpus understand and theorize what is happening.The framework we currently find most helpful is one we derive from the work of RobertSiegler (1998; 2007), specifically his “overlapping-waves” theory of strategic variability. Sieglerobserved children’s problem-solving attempts in a number of different domains and noticed thatchildren were quite prolific in generating and then trying out new strategies. The amount ofstrategic variability he observed far exceeded what a Piagetian model of child development andlearning theory would predict. Thus, when faced with a problem of some kind (e.g., adding twonumbers, deciding how to spell challenging words, calculating whether one quantity is larger orsmaller than another), children routinely generated and applied a number of different andsometimes incompatible strategies, some of which were demonstrably more effective than others(in a given context, for a given purpose). Further, children continued to apply multiple strategies,including less effective ones, over a substantial period of time. Only gradually, over the course ofrepeated trials, did the use of some strategies eventually decline, while the use of othersincreased. More recent studies with adults have found the same patterns of strategic variabilityfor a variety of tasks in different domains (e.g., Dowker, Flood, Griffiths, Harriss, & Hook,1996; LeFevre, Sadesky, & Bisanz, 1996).
  • 14To explain these “overlapping waves” of declining and increasing use of particularstrategies, Siegler draws on key concepts from Darwinian evolutionary theory. Within thisframework, cognitive strategies are analogous to life forms coexisting for a time in an ecosystem.In this analogy, the learner is the ecosystem; her strategies for adding two numbers (oraccomplishing any task) are akin to the genetic mutations embodied in rival life forms possessingdifferent survival-promoting characteristics. Depending on the learner’s circumstances(especially the degree to which her social environment sanctions the use of particular strategies),these rival life-forms may happily coexist over long periods of time, or more rapidly andintensely compete with each other for preeminence until a subset of strategies prevails (at leastfor the time being) or until a new, superior strategy is generated.4Our view, extending Siegler’s framework to the domain of reading, is that the increasingand decreasing prevalence of particular reading practices may similarly be understood throughthe lens of evolutionary theory. Like other cognitive strategies, reading strategies may be said toparallel genetic mutations in important ways. In an ecosystem, mutations yield bio-diversity.Complex processes of natural selection then gradually winnow out winners and losers. In thecase of reading practices, multiple practices can and do co-exist and thrive together, side by sidein an ecosystem of many practices, many epistemic beliefs, many conceptions of literacy, andmany purposes for reading. Coexistence is often peaceful or even symbiotic; however, somepractices may also be in “competition” with others. In the latter situation, some practices will4An important finding in this regard is that learners who initially try a larger number ofstrategies, or who use more different strategies on a single type of problem, tend to have superioroverall learning outcomes in the long run (Siegler, 1998). This may be because learners withknowledge of a greater variety of strategies (good and bad) are better positioned to combinepromising strategy elements into new, superior approaches; it could also be because those whoinitially try more strategies get more practice with evaluating and winnowing strategies, and thatgreater efficiency and cognitive flexibility with regard to this winnowing process gives them acomparative advantage over other learners who are more rigid in their attachment to particular“proven” strategies.
  • 15become more widely adopted and used, while others may die out. Which does not mean that the“winning” practices are necessarily better than “losing” ones in any absolute sense. The readingpractices that prevail are simply better adapted for success in a particular environment, underparticular conditions, when used for particular historically situated purposes.We submit that this overlapping-waves, evolutionary framework provides a basis for anew perspective on such things as the fate today of deep, absorbed reading of literary texts (Carr,2010) or the emergence of new forms of reading such as technology-assisted rapid scanning andskimming strategies (which some may attack or dismiss as “shallow” and “not real reading”).This perspective underscores the inevitability of diversity. It also encourages us, as readingresearchers, to consider at every turn the various factors and forces that will, in aggregate, andover time, confer advantage on some reading practices and disadvantage on others.With regard to diversity, Darwin would tell us that, in general, the more of it there iswithin an ecosystem, the more productive the system as a whole becomes (e.g., where there ismore plant biodiversity, there is a higher overall yield of plant biomass [Tilman, Lehman, &Thomson, 1997]). We predict, optimistically, that the same will be true with regard to reading.More choices, more options, more kinds of texts, more ways to read, more ways to witness andlearn from the reading activities of others—all these things may over time yield a greater“biomass” of meaning production and meaning exchange that benefits everyone. We tend toagree with Clay Shirky’s broad point that “every past technology … that has increased thenumber of producers and consumers of written material, from the alphabet and papyrus to thetelegraph and the paperback, has been good for humanity” (Juskalian, 2008). Extending thispoint to reading yields the following: “every technology that has increased the number of
  • 16different ways people can access and construct meaning from text is good for humanity.” And notechnology has catalyzed a more rapid increase in this regard than today’s Internet-based ICTs.5ImplicationsWhat are some implications of the ideas we have sketched here—for schools, for readingresearchers, and for the general reading public? What are some possible repercussions of the“massive pluralization” we have described in reading practices and conceptions of reading?In terms of school-based instruction in reading comprehension, we see a huge challengefor teachers. Reading instruction will need to be more explicitly tailored to genre, medium,discipline, context, purpose, student, language, and more. In new digital reading environments,with new types of texts, students will need new knowledge, new skills, new strategies, even newdispositions to thrive. Already now, there is growing pressure on K-12 teachers to incorporatemore different kinds of literacy activities, adding new media literacies to traditional printliteracies (e.g., CCSS, 2010). In coming years we will likely see even more pressure on educators(a) to use new methods and tools in order to accelerate and enhance their students’ “learning toread” and (b) to explicitly target reading instruction for specific “high value” ways of “reading tolearn” (especially as the wider public gradually becomes better informed about different ways ofreading, available online tools to enhance reading, etc.).In the preceding paragraph we specified “school-based” instruction because it seemslikely that, with the massive pluralization of reading practices we have described, K-12 students’reading lives will be powerfully shaped by informal literacy and reading experiences outsideschool as never before. To be sure, outside-school reading experiences have always played an5On a more sober note: we acknowledge the reality that, as Shirky put it, we are “powerless withregard to the adoption curve” (Juskalian, 2008). As well, we recognize that the emergence ofnew reading practices dependent on new technologies also instantly creates new lines ofexclusion and new dynamics of intellectual and socio-economic advantage and disadvantage.
  • 17important role in children’s and adolescents’ lives (e.g., Kirkland & Hull, 2011). Now, however,outside-school literacy experiences are arguably more varied, engaging, immersive, and socialthan ever. Gee (2003) explores this terrain in his research on the reading practices that teensdevelop in “affinity groups” around activities such as video gaming. Ito and colleagues (2010) dothe same.For reading researchers we see the need for increasingly complex views of readingcapable of keeping track of dynamic interactions among multiple factors (Hartman, Morsink, &Zheng, 2010). As our object of study—reading, in all its forms and manifestations—continues todiversify, reading researchers may also face pressure to specialize and develop expertise aboutparticular sub-species of reading. As well, researchers in coming years will likely see a hugeincrease in the amount of data that’s routinely gathered and, in principle, available for researchregarding the reading activities of millions of “users” of particular websites, particular e-readerdevices such as the Kindle, particular smart phone and tablet “apps,” and more. At the sametime, there will likely be mounting pressure to quicken the pace of research to meet the surgingdemand from app developers, curriculum developers, and others related to the design anddelivery of effective educational materials, interfaces, and so on.For the general reading public we see growing diversity in the reading “ecosystem,” moreand more niches of specialized reading activity, more communities of practice rapidly forming(and maybe just as rapidly dissolving) around topics of interest, hobbies, news events, politicalcauses, or particular literacy tools. Of course, such “niches” and communities have alwaysexisted. Now, however, anyone with a browser and an Internet connection has a vast array ofreading-related resources at their fingertips—search engines, social media sites, book club sites,free online tools for creating and editing multimedia content, free instructional materials, vast
  • 18libraries of free books, free discussion forums, and much more. As more and more members ofthe general public become everyday users of specialized literacy tools, it seems increasinglylikely that this shift will sooner or later translate into changed expectations for school-basededucation.Finally, with K-16 students reading in more and more different ways, assessment ofreading will need to become more dynamic and flexible. Building on developments in “dynamicassessment,” students’ comprehension may need to be evaluated using a range of text and tasktypes, with varying levels of assistance. For example, schools may be charged with assessinghow deeply a 10thgrade student understands an assigned novella read in school for the purposeof writing a five-paragraph essay, but also how well the same 10thgrader is able to synthesizeinformation gleaned from five different websites that combine alphabetic prose with a variety ofmultimedia elements. Thus, we will have a multifaceted picture of what readers can understandand do as they steer through many crossroads in their reading life.Looking aheadAgainst the backdrop of the trends we have sketched and the perspective that reading hasalways been at many crossroads, we conclude by asking: What new forms will reading take inthe next ten years? Will artificially intelligent reading coaches soon be ubiquitous, withsophisticated voice-recognition capabilities far beyond those of the current Siri iPhone “personalassistant” app? In the future, will such assistant or coaching apps always be standing by torespond to our questions, provide relevant background knowledge, suggest related texts to read,gently correct our oral reading miscues, provide specific reading strategy advice (“Remember toask questions while you read”), and encourage comprehension monitoring (“Does theinformation about the debt crisis on this page agree with the information on the previous
  • 19webpage you visited?”)? Will the texts we read become even more interactive, even easier tocustomize, even easier to remix? Will reading events be so richly tagged and annotated inmultiple ways (with time and GPS data indicating where and when each reading event occurred,with searchable social networking data allowing us to recapture the conversations that occurredaround a particular reading event, etc.) that readers will be able to search, retrieve, and revisit notjust the texts they read but their own past experiences of reading alone and with others--how itfelt, yesterday or last year, to read a particular text? When new technologies (such as eye-tracking hardware and software) eventually come “standard” on every laptop and tablet, will wesee a further explosion in the amount and kinds of data gathered as a matter of course about eventhe most routine reading events? Will our reading devices eventually collect not just eye-movement data (data about where exactly our eyes fixate on a given page) but also data aboutour facial expressions while reading, our heart rate (measured through our fingertips), and otherbiometric data? Will our reading devices eventually come programmed with the ability torespond intelligently to these inputs--reading our moods, for example, and factoring this moodinformation into the timing of the coaching advice they provide to us (“If the information on thispage is making you upset, you might want to search for another page on this topic, to see if itcontains different information or the same information”)? Will Internet—and GPS—enabled“smart” eyeglasses—eyeglasses capable of projecting text annotations and other data into thewearer’s field of vision—soon allow us to access all these reading supports and resources (andmore) at the blink of an eye?The possibility that even just a few of these questions will be answered in the affirmativeups the ante for the view we have sketched in this chapter regarding a massive pluralization ofreading practices and conceptions of reading. In ten years we may need to find an even more
  • 20dramatic word to replace the word massive … or a more encompassing word for what we nowcall reading. With new reading devices, new genres of multimodal texts, increasingly intelligentand responsive reading environments, new ways of recording and sharing reading “events”—ourprediction is that, in ten years, readers will find themselves at an even greater number and type ofcrossroads than they do today. Our hope is that, even as the crossroads continue to multiply, wewill see a growing collective commitment to making sure that more readers than ever beforehave the knowledge and resources to see these crossroads for what they are, to join with others indiscussing and understanding them, and to choose reading paths that are personally andcollectively rewarding.
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