Are our reading habits stuck on ‘browse’?

What have you read today? Perhaps you’ve checked social media, read a newspaper or read a magazine article. Maybe you’ve checked your email, sent a text, read road signs on your way to work (or the diversion directions on your SatNav to avoid roadworks!) or checked the weather via a weather app to decide whether or not today is ‘coat’ weather. On your way to work, you may have listened to a podcast or a favourite radio station or checked the bus or train timetable to plan the journey to your destination. Most of these reading experiences involve quick scanning of the text to get the ‘gist’ or skimming to quickly find specific information. But how much time today did you spend ‘deep’ reading?
According to my very technical ‘Google search,’ deep reading ‘is the active process of thoughtful and deliberate reading carried out to enhance one’s comprehension and enjoyment of a text. Contrast with skimming or superficial reading.’ As teachers, we are likely to engage in some kind of deep reading in the classroom every day. We might engage with pupils through booktalk about a poem, read a novel aloud or support pupils to foster specific reading skills when reading a scientific text. We invest time in teaching pupils how to engage in ‘deep’ reading, helping them to interact with texts and apply their own experiences to what they read. We support them to develop intertextuality – an understanding of how texts are related, strengthening connections and growing understanding of how books work.
I was recently listening to the ‘Word of Mouth’ Radio 4 podcast presented by Michael Rosen and Dr Laura Wright. (For those of you who know me, you will know that this podcast is a bit of an obsession of mine at the minute – if you love words and you haven’t had a listen, download it now here!) The episode I’m referring to is one that aired on 28 September 2015 entitled ‘Reading: Print v eBooks’ and also welcomed American Linguist Professor Naomi Baron to share findings of her international research into the changing reading habits of university students. She spoke of a type of new reading that has emerged from the rise in the use of eBooks which she has coined ‘snippet literacy’ – scrolling and gathering ‘snippets’ of information rather than reading ‘deeply.’ More information in her article here.
This really got me thinking… We are arguably living at a time in history where information is available at the touch of a finger, or the sound of a voice… Alexa, what’s the weather today? Has this ease of access to information changed our reading habits? Have we become a society of ‘hyper’ readers? Dr Baron refers to ‘hyper’ reading as skimming and scanning text, with little attention to detail and a lack of careful thinking about reading that leads to the construction of arguments and amalgamation of new information.
The National Literacy Trust’s ‘Words for Life’ campaign highlights the importance of the balance that’s needed between on-screen versus print reading here .  NLT have found that ‘children who only read on-screen are much less likely to be good readers than those who also read in print form. In addition, they are significantly less likely to enjoy reading.’ Their research also found that 39% of children surveyed ‘read daily using electronic devices including tablets and eReaders, but only 28% read printed materials daily.’
So why is this balance between ‘p’ (print) books and ‘e’ (electronic) books (interesting ‘retronyms’ that have helped us to distinguish new versions of books that are available on the market at this point in history) so important? For me, reading is about connection. I enjoy curling up with a good book, engaging with the characters, being transported to a far and distant land. Stephen King says, ‘Books are a uniquely portable magic’ and I rely on this magic to help me connect with the story. Reading ‘p’books, for me, is a form of escapism, an island of relaxation within the sea of my busy life. I also read ‘e’books but the purpose of these books is different. I read electronic forms of print for work, for quick access to information, to quickly gather ‘snippets’ of information that I need to jog my memory or to help me develop my own knowledge. Interestingly, when I read an educational book in print form, I tend to recall more of this information – I’m able to get into the ‘deep’ reading mode that allows me to think and question the author. It allows me to make my own meaning and link together thoughts about whatever the topic might be.
In summary, as readers, have we become stuck on ‘browse’? I’d challenge you to think about your own reading habits and those of the pupils you teach. We need to understand the different functions of ‘reading’ in our digital world but also respect those beautiful, printed books that are sitting lonely on our shelves.
Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings!

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