Here I am, ready to post the second part of my thesis to my blog. I know this is extremely thrilling for you, because nothing is quite so riveting as a dry thesis. And I understand. Let’s face it, the academic world expects a certain passive quality from professional papers. It’s stupid. So let me be frank: child literacy is important. In fact, it’s more important than any other subject. Yeah, I’m calling you out math and science and history. Reading is more important than all of you, even put together. This is not an opinion, this is a fact. If you’ve ever spent any time reading the works of great minds, whether it be Shakespeare or Plato or Einstein, you’ll learn that language is a fundamental element to thinking, and thinking is fundamental to everything else, like science and math. You see, reading teaches you how to think. It teaches you to think period. So while schools and educational systems try to make reading and even writing just another subject, it isn’t. It’s important, critical even, to your child’s development. I cannot stress this enough. Actively and regularly make (yes, make, even if they don’t like it!) your child read. They’ll thank you one day.
Despite these sobering literacy statistics, technology—which contributes to the problem—can also contribute to the solution. In fact, it has already started to contribute to the solution. Most literacy surveys focus on traditional reading media, like print books and magazines, but ignore the increasing number of children doing their reading via electronic and digital sources. Addlington (2009) cites a number of studies stating that children all over the world are accessing the Internet. This access, though not traditionally considered literacy, still requires reading.
Meanwhile, Larson (2009) goes so far as to suggest that researchers “address the discrepancy between the types of literacy experiences students encounter at school (paper, pencil, and printed texts), and those they practice in their daily lives outside the school environment (Web 2.0)” (255). The common factor between these researchers is that literacy is no longer a term that can be confined to traditional meanings. Therefore, confining surveys on child literacy to traditional text is inefficient and ineffective as well.
Addlington and Larson are not the only researchers claiming that literacy encompasses digital text as well. Moyer (2010) points out that current studies about literacy ignore the massive amount of reading kids do using different formats, such as digital and electronic text and audiobooks. Moyer implies that the supposed drop in literacy is merely a shift from one medium to another.
Though child literacy in the United States may not be decreasing as much as evolving—by describing literacy in terms of print, digital, electronic, and audio text—literacy rates can always be improved. On an international level out of 60 countries and five educational systems, the United States is only slightly higher than average, with lower reading scores than seven countries and two educational systems and equivalent reading scores with 15 other countries and one educational system (Institute of Education Sciences 2011). Considering the trend toward technology for both educational and recreational uses, teachers, parents, and technical communicators need to take advantage of technology and the various features and tools in digital readers and electronic text to improve literacy and make rising generations more competitive in a global society.
This new definition of literacy can be called electronic literacy, referring to “literacy activities which are delivered, supported, accessed, or assessed through computer or other electronic means rather than on paper” (Topping 2007, under “Electronic Literacy”), though maybe it should be in conjunction with paper. Regardless, electronic literacy relies heavily on hypertext. Traditional reading is very linear. Readers interpret symbols and text in a certain order: left to right, right to left, or top to bottom. Electronic reading replaces linear text with hypertext, where users can select links, access embedded information, and personalize their reading experiences. This hypertext gives the reader not only words, but pictures, video, graphics, and sound for a three-dimensional reading experience. Topping likens reading hypertext to “the ‘reading’ of tea leaves, someone’s palm, entrails, dreams, or the clouds. It is a search for personal relevance, an exploration of the most salient points in relation to the needs of the reader and in relation to each other” (under “Introduction”). There’s no better way to encourage reading in children then by making that experience intensely personal, awakening their spirit of exploration and curiosity.