Learning to read in a digitised world

Over on John Connell’s blog there has been some discussion around the meaning of literacy in a digitised era. I have my issues with the traditional meaning of literacy, but lets plough on regardless. I just wanted to share a few anecdotes about how technology and in particular games have shaped my eldest son’s learning.

I should point out that my eldest son is a geek of the first order – his second word (after Daddy) was “ubbloo, ubbloo, ubbloo ot”. We spent ages trying to work out what this meant until one day he took my hand let me to the computer pointed to it and said “ubbloo, ubbloo, ubbloo, ot; UBBLOO, UBBLOO, UBBLOO, OT” Finally we realised that he meant “www.”. He wanted to play the online games from Cbeebies! (Eventually he did say “Mummy” but hey, I know where I am in his pecking order.)

When he was 5, just before he started school, we got him Eternal Ring for the playstation. To be honest it was somewhat mature for him, but he needed more challenging puzzles and loved the whole magiv and spells aspects. As it was it was designed for older children it was highly text based and used some advanced vocabulary. We were driven insane by constant demands to come and read the next bit of instructions. As time went on we became less then prompt at attending to them …and then one day, they stopped. He was still playing the game and we didnt notice at first, but then we realised that he was getting passed the instructions and carrying on. When we asked him he told us that was getting fed up waiting for us to come and read the instructions so he thought he would just read them himself. We were a bit taken aback – tbh we didnt really believe him, and while he couldnt read the words as such, what he could get is the essential meaning from them which enabled him to progress.

He’s now a voracious reader and I am almost sure that it was the motivation of eternal ring which did it. Friere talked about how when developing literacy with adult students he would first look at why they wanted to be literate – usually to be able to understand rental agreements, official letters etc and take that as the starting point that there has to be a purpose which is meaningful in order for the learning to occur. In my sons case,that purpose was very meaningful – how on earth was he ever going to get the Third Ring of Doom unless he read the instructions. Those who worry about traditional literacy development being devalued in the curriculum as more classroom practice becomes digitised have little to fear imho. I suspect that literacy teaching will be squeezed but only because it will not be so necessary – when children learn to read by osmosis a new form of supporting that process will be required, one which bear little resemblence to the Peter and Jane days of yore.

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