English - Book burning

It's time to ditch the hard copy and promote reading on screen

Julie Greenhough

Parents' evening. The familiar cry goes up. "I just can't get him to read a book." Or worse: "She used to love reading", with its implication that I have systematically killed off any love of literature in their daughter. Imagine the horror when I don't provide the much-desired paperback but suggest instead that they encourage their child to read online. "With a computer?" is the choked question. Well, yes.

We read differently now. Reading is no longer linear and linguistic. New combinations of words and images are altering the literacy landscape. Pupils are intensely involved in multi-modal textual practices, and their experiences of reading are no longer just paper-based. Sitting still with a book isn't going to work.

So, you could encourage the use of an e-book reader. My Year 9 pupils have recently been engrossed in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, free to download and easy for them to annotate on screen in class.

Alternatively, you could urge them to join an online reading group. A report by now-defunct education quango Becta found that only 5 per cent of secondary schools used social networking sites as tools for learning. Yet setting up a reading group on a site such as Ning takes minutes and the cost is tiny.

When we did this, instead of meeting once a week in a classroom, my pupils and I met online whenever we wanted to talk about books, beginning with We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. We brought together a group of between 12 and 20 pupils from key stages 3, 4 and 5 in a way they didn't usually experience.

Pupils made numerous posts at all times of the day and night, commenting on what each other had written. They added photographs, images, cartoons, links to videos, hyperlinks, podcasts and blogs. Security, of course, is of paramount importance: receiving email alerts every time a comment is made allows you to monitor posts.

We need to recognise that print literacy is being replaced by multi-modal literacy and that it is already here for our pupils to access. Literacy is no longer a matter of linguistics but of semiotics. It is all very well for the national curriculum to include the word "multi-modal" in its framework for English, but unless we offer pupils the opportunity to experience such forms, that is merely tokenistic. So, put down that book and turn on the screen.

Julie Greenhough teaches English and the EPQ (extended project qualification) at a secondary school. Multi-modality is part of her doctoral studies at the Institute of Education, University of London

What else?

Project Gutenberg has more than 20,000 e-books ready for use in the classroom.

Urge students to become digital producers with a podcasting project from Big Bear.

Encourage an interest in e-books with learnloads' industry research task.

In the forums

Why teach Of Mice and Men? Because it's short, according to some teachers; because there are strong characters and themes, according to others. Join the discussion.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources037.

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Julie Greenhough

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