Last week there was an interesting Op Ed in the NY Times by David Brooks titled "The Medium is the Medium" that seems to give hope for the good old books.
It points to several studies about the presence of books in a student's home and the impact it has on their performance in school. In one study, disadvantaged students were given 12 books to keep and read over the summer break. In that study, they performed better in the fall than students who did not get the books. The study also points out that those students also had less of a "summer slide" - their term for the decline that seems to especially hit lower-income students during the vacation months. Just having those books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school. Brooks also points other research that shows that children who grow up in a home with 500 books stay in school longer and do better.
I am a book fan, but all this seems too easy.
Can just the mere presence of a home library make a difference? (Some of these studies are not looking at whether or not students actually read the books or even the types of books in the home. The new study gave $50 worth of paperbacks from Scholastic, so they were probably "age-appropriate.")
The new study (led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee) suggests that it's not just the presence of the books, but there's a change in the self-perception of the students who see themselves as readers.
Teacher/Blogger Brian Bachenheimer posted a good observation about the Brooks OpEd that focused on the idea that is pretty well accepted by many teachers that "literacy" now can take many forms including blogs, social literacy sites, wikis, and podcasts.
Sure, they are not books, but some educators feel they are better than books because they are participatory (read/write) and allow students (via links) to go beyond the document to images (photos, maps, art), audio (speakers, music), and related stories and research.
And anyone with a student at home or in their classroom knows that, for whatever reasons you want to list, the Internet is far more motivating than books.
Would a study that gave disadvantaged kids the Net and a computer over the summer show any improvement or any less summer slide? Would they see themselves differently - not as readers, but as connected?
Brooks' conclusion sound quite old-fashioned:
"But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher."
Although many teachers would still like to believe those sentiments, the reality of the classroom doesn't really support them.
(There area few hundred comments on the Brooks' piece online.)