paper delivered at the Whangarei Reading Association inaugural
seminar Saturday 10 March 2001
the cliches of reading and information literacy.
is a buzz word at the moment. We're even advertising courses in
'assessment literacy'. Literacy has never been more important,
and there would be few who would challenge the need for all types
of literacies including the need for all children to be able to
read, understand and interpret information, to become information
is a key component of information literacy - being able to read,
not just letters and words on page or screen, but to 'read' diagrams,
pictures, figures, multi-media presentations, TV, advertsâ€¦ We
want all children to become lifelong learners and lifelong readers,
people who read for pleasure as well as 'information'.
it's only when we get beyond the cliches, the rhetoric of empowerment
and lifelong learning, and get beyond the over-simplifications
of categories like 'fiction' and 'non-fiction' and really
start asking 'Why read?' that we start to see that reading
is not negotiable. It isn't just learning to read. Get short term loans from In City Loans site. There
are three integral and inter-related aspects - what, how
have focused far too much on the 'how', forgetting that it's not
just a question of whole-language versus phonics, phonetics or
phonemics. If, as a child, I can't see any purpose for reading,
I'm not likely to do any more than I have to. 'What' and 'why'
provide the context for 'how'.
damage done by oversimplification was summed up by a notice I
saw in a school. Non-fiction, it proclaimed, is true. Fiction
is not true. I see, so why are we asking children to read lies?
I wrote the original New Zealand edition of Reading Alive!
in 1989 I said in a section entitled 'Why read?'
you can promote something, you need to know what exactly it is
that you are promoting, and why. To the convinced reader and lifelong
book addict the question WHY READ? may seem as relevant as asking
'do fish need water?' but it is precisely those of us who are
convinced readers who need to clarity for ourselves and our
students why reading is important and relevant for everyone.
long as our society is print-based (whether that print is on a
screen, on fiche or in a book), the ability to read competently,
confidently, flexibly and fluently is POWER. To choose not to
exercise that option is your right. If you cannot do it, you do
not have the option of choosing, and your power in society is
saw reading as power, as knowing, as seeing the world through
other eyes, as experience, as feeling, as expanding your horizons,
as other worlds, as giving you a handle on past, present and future,
as food for the mind and imagination.
that was then, this is now, a dozen years and an information revolution
think all these reasons for reading are still valid, but that
several additional reasons need greater emphasis because of what
a generation of digital obsession has done to children's print
'reasons for reading' which need greater emphasis in this fragmented,
frenetic society of electronic connectivity and social disconnectivity
common denominator is imagination.
also want to tackle an underlying assumptions integral to this
society - that new is always better; that we always look ahead,
or abroad, for panaceas. These often arrive in the form of overseas
gurus who deliver Powerpoint presentations with enormous pizzazz
and leave us wondering whether it is our personal inadequacies
which make it so hard to translate into classroom practice what
seems to obvious and so easy when Powerpointed.
who believe in reading should probably spend more time doing just
that because, reading some old, wise text. None of our problems
seems particularly new, and the five additional reasons for reading
are covered with intelligence and simplicity - which is more than
can be said for many of our curriculum and guiding documents.
LANGUAGE: Make language come alive for them.
have never had a more important role to play in bringing language
alive. Inarticulacy is a problem not confined to any one socio-economic
class or cultural group. Children who are seldom spoken to, read
to, listened to and encouraged to formulate reasons and arguments;
children who spend their out-of-school lives on Game Boys, Play
stations, surfing the web, watching TV, whatever, are often inarticulate.
Inarticulacy and illiteracy are both killers (for example, Botting
1999). Vygotsky reminds us that thinking develops language and
language develops thinking. Computers have not improved speaking.
are the wardrobe of the mind. If teachers don't help to bring
language alive, who will? Teachers who can read aloud with passion
and share their pleasure with the sound and shape of words,
showing kids how particular words clothe particular thoughts,
are NOT dime a dozen. Many young teachers are, themselves, marginally
literate and articulate. They don't seem to read, and their speech
shows it. I am not talking about accent or spelling or punctuation.
I am talking about restricted vocabulary, boring monotone voices
- killing rather than bringing language alive.
best source of language for reading and sharing is books. Most
teachers have their favourite readalouds, but how often do we
send a list of a few suggested readaloud books to parents? How
often do we celebrate words themselves, rich, wonderful, funny,
exciting words, with the children we teach?
Meek (1977, p. 7) said:
too readily we believe that, in our electronic age, the habit
of storytelling has been lost so that we have stopped expecting
it to operate. But it is still powerfully there, behind the news
bulletin, the strip cartoon, the sports report.
people, places, events woven into a coherent narrative with powerful
language is what Barbara Hardy called a 'primary act of mind'
to find out what happened next is as good a reason for reading
as any. Book story develops, better than any other medium, language-rich,
plot-rich, deep, profound, extended stories which truly invite
us to interact with the minds, emotions, ideas, cultures, conditions,
and lives of people past, present and future.
fiction is a tautology. All good fiction and non-fiction invites
us to interact with the essence of what it is to be human - in
ways I have never encountered with a computer program. This
leads to the second need for emphasis:
GIVE THEM HEROES: Give them the power of the great elemental
Cook (1969, p. 3) said:
inherent greatness of myth and fairy tale is poetic greatness.
The best stories are like extended lyrical images of unchanging
human predicaments and strong, unchanging hopes and fears, loves
are all the more important in that they do NOT relate to or reflect
the immediate day-to-day reality of children's lives. Thank God,
they are not 'relevant'. Cook says:
are not realistic; they are almost unlocalized in time and space;
they are often supernatural or at least fantastic in character;
and the human beings in them are not three-dimensional people
with complex motives and temperaments. These stories do hold a
mirror up to nature, but they do not reflect the world as we perceive
it with our senses at the present momentâ€¦ in reading them we
live in a Secondary World which is internally consistent (p. 2).
in a fragmented, frenetic, de-constructed world they provide an
elemental certainty, a psychological re-construction and coherence,
which is hard to come by. And the best way to encounter them is
to hear them read by a skilled reader. They stir the heart, they
stir the imagination and the limbs. As Cook says,
and fairy tales provide an unusually abundant choice of things
to do. Largely because they are archetypal and anonymousâ€¦ they
will stand reinterpretation in many forms without losing their
character. They can be recreated by children not only in words,
but in drama, in mine, in dance and in painting. Action in them
is not fussy, and lends itself to qualitative expression in the
movements of the human body and in the shapes and colours of non-figurative
painting (p. 9).
they are bigger than the petty reality of our days, and they leave
a potent legacy in children's minds, hearts and imaginations.
the All Blacks the best heroes for our children? Recent times
have revealed the clay feet of far too many people who make indecent
livings hitting or chasing balls round fields. I'd rather they
lived Boadicea, Ulysses, Galahad, Lancelot, Guinevere, Gawain,
Icarus, Achilles, Joan of Arc, Beowulf, Cinderella.
KNOWLEDGE AND IMAGINATION: fascinate them with facts.
is not only the great elemental stories that leave a potent legacy.
That poor deluded teacher who told her class that non-fiction
was 'true' and fiction was 'not true' betrayed her own abysmal
illiteracy. The NEMP tasks demonstrated that many children had
a flimsy grasp of New Zealand geography. And we are supposed to
be equipping them to become knowledge workers in a global society!
Well, OK, why don't we dip into Iona and Peter Opie's The lore
and language of schoolchildren (1959)and teach them to chant,
dance and demonstrate on a map:
Long legged Italy
in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
a bit of Turkey
it in Greece
it in Japan
ate it off China.
who heard Margaret Mahy's memorable talk on the sex life of the
black tipped hanging fly delivered in her inimitable style on
a moonlight night on the ferry, the Kestrel, on Auckland Harbour
some fifteen years ago will attest to the power of facts to stir
and feed the imagination. Knowledge is power. It isn't just a
clichÃ©. Contrast James K Baxter's marvellous poem 'The big black
whale' with a recent non-fiction book on whales which is a pastiche
of corny little characters, fragmented facts, speech bubbles -
pandering to the worst of what we THINK will induce the digital
child to pick up a book rather than surf the Net. It is obvious
which conveys information more effectively.
Key Gates (1974) cited Ulrich Neisser:
processing is not only something done only by modern machines;
it is as old as man, and much older. The tracks of glaciers represent
stored informationâ€¦ about the ice ageâ€¦Information about still
earlier ages is probably stored on the moonâ€¦ Each man sees the
world a little differently from any other, remembers it a little
differently, uses what he remembers a little differently. We select,
transmit, and store information in ways that are more and more
unique as we grow up (p. 3).
you've finished falling about laughing at the nice middle class
white mum and her two scrubbed children on the cover, tell me
where, today, you'll find such good common sense advice for parents
written so simply and accessibly:
time you read aloud to the child or let him browse through a picture
book, he sees that you are interested in reading. When you visit
the library or invite him to tell about the library books he has
borrowed, he knows that reading is important to you. From your
example he will conclude that reading is a pleasure. In this receptive
state of mind, he will learn more easily and quickly at school.
important is the fact that through reading he grows and develops
as a person. Even at pat-a-cake age, a child's personality begins
to expand when he hears the old nursery rhymes.
you provide him with continuing delight in reading, you are helping
him to develop as a happy, self-sufficient person. Through books
he may visit different lands and different ages; he may explore
science and art; he may fact up to critical issues. If you encourage
him to ask questions and get to the root of what he reads, his
reading will help him become a thinking citizen (Larrick, 1974,
this with 'Curriculumspeak'. Here's one example:
and discuss language features and their effects in a range of
texts, and use these features in speaking and recording, adapting
them to the topic, purpose and audience."
yeah, yeah! I know we need a curriculum but when I read the curriculum
Statements I wonder how I ever got through school. I find these
words intimidating and de-humanizing - against everything I believe
language and learning and knowledge building to be. Personally,
I'd rather rely, like Margaret did, on theScientific American
account of the sex life of the black tip hanging fly to fuel my
passion for language, story AND factual knowledge. Like Margaret,
I love language, I love reading and I LOVE learning and knowing
and knowledge. Is this a sin?
DISCRIMINATION: the art of detecting garbage, assessing
truth, accuracy, opinion, evidence and value
a rash of really poor stuff purporting to test or develop information
literacy. For example, in discussing the new PAT tests developed
for the NZCER, Brown (1999) asks how information literate our
kids are and then depicts two shelves with letters and numbers
(400 and 900, separated by A B C D) and asks where you'd find
books at "number 522.2" and then asks "in which
section of the library would you find these shelves."
this for real? As a qualified librarian I'd be confused by any
shelf which had numbers and letters the same size and I really
wouldn't be able to tell you whether this belonged in fiction
or non-fiction. I'd probably say "near the door." I
tried it out on a university class. Noone could work out what
was wanted, so what does this exercise test?
might have been better addressing the NEMP finding that our children
have a lot of difficulty, not just with critical thinking, but
with simply applying fundamental thinking/ learning processes
like comparing and contrasting information, sequencing, establishing
cause and effect, linking, relating, analysing, synthesising and
interpreting information. Instead of inauthentic non-tasks like
these new PAT jokes, maybe PAT tests could assess probably the
most important attribute of the information literate citizen today
- the ability to discriminate, to detect nonsense, bias, to challenge
fact not grounded in evidence; to distinguish between informed
opinions and ignorant ranting; to compare Kim Hill and Paul Homes.
bottom line is that discrimination depends on KNOWLEDGE. Simply,
if you know nothing how do you know whether something is true
or not, biased or not? Discrimination is based on being able to
analyse, compare, synthesise and make inferences. And to do that
you need factual knowledge in your belly. You need to know how
to work with information, to transform it into knowledge.
is just signs and numbers, while knowledge involves their meaning.
"What we want is knowledge, but what we get is information".
literacy involves sophisticated reading and cognitive skills.
Ketih Gardner (1965, p. 3) said:
has been called a basic tool. This is true, but it must be remembered
that 'basic' does not mean 'simple' nor 'primitive.'
would behove the NZCER to understand this before they dress up
some basic, banal and confusing literacy task as 'information
literacy'. The need for skills to analyse and interpret the ever-expanding
body of information was noted as long ago as 1937 by Bagley:
such are the countless ways in which knowledge is disseminated,
so diverted into specialized channels, and almost submerged by
torrents of fresh material the printing presses pour out every
day, that one needs training to single out relevant facts from
such a maelstron of knowledge (p. 9).
rich resource of general knowledge, knowledge of how to find alternative
sources of information and how to compare, contrast, analyse and
synthesise are what will build an intuitive sense of discrimination.
illiterate and inarticulate child is going to have a hard time
developing what is, arguably, the most significant characteristic
of the information literate person. The illiterate and inarticulate
are the most likely to be sucked into scams and to not have the
general body of knowledge which nourishes discrimination.
VICARIOUS LIVING AND LEARNING: Expand their horizons, their
can't all crawl on our bellies through the Amazon Jungle to see,
first-hand, the sex life of the black tip hanging fly and while
I'm sure it will eventually be on the Internet in infinite colours,
I agree with Lilian Smith that:
thing that makes a book a good book to a child is that it is an
experience. The child who has read and enjoyed such a book has
grown a little, has added something to his stature as an individual.
He is a little more capable of enjoying new impressions and receiving
new ideas which will illuminate his next new experience, whatever
it may be. He has gained something permanent which can never be
taken away from him (1953, p. 14).
Cass (1967, p. ix) adds:
by the magic of words and pictures, experiences of people, places
and things lying outside the normal activities and environment
of children can be brought close to them, and situations outside
the arbitrary limits of their space and time can be presented
to them for their inspection and assessment, in order that their
insatiable curiosity may be satisfied.
used some of the wonderfully wise authors of books on children's
reading and literature to make the point that we need to think
about these five things:
Making language come alive for children
Giving them heroes and the power of the great elemental
Fascinating them with facts, stirring their imaginations
and love of learning and knowing
Teaching them discrimination
Expanding their experience, their horizons, their
boundaries, their worlds.
finish by reinforcing this with two quotes from contemporary authors
well known to you:
writings soldered the wiring parts of my mind such that there
are times when I feel with their fingers, think with their words,
tap my toes to their rhythms. Joe
read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or
imaginary, do and think and feel is an essential guide to our
understanding of what we ourselves are and may become. Ursula
W. A. (1937). Facts and how to find themâ€¦ London: Pitman.
G. (1999). Information skills: how information literate are new
Zealand children? Paper delivered at the NZARE/AARE Conference,
melbouren Nov. 29 - Dec. 2, 1999.
J. (1967). Literature and the young child. London: Longmans.
E. (1969). The ordinary and the fabulous: An introduction to
myths, legends and fairy tales for teachers and storytellers.
K. (1965). Towards literacy: An introduction to the teaching
of reading. Oxford: Blackwell.
J. K. (1974). Guide to the use of books and libraries. 3rd
ed. New York: McGraw Hill.
N. (1964). A parent's guide to children's reading. 2nd
ed. New York: Doubleday.
M., Warlow, A, and Barton, G. (Eds.) (1977). The cool web:
The pattern of children's reading. London: Bodley Head.
I. and P. (1959). The lore and language of children. Oxford.
L. (1953). The unreluctant years: A critical approach to children's
literature. Chicago: American Library Association.