Leo’s brain was wired differently from others in school. He, too, was almost illiterate according to established definitions. He was so slow to understand phonology, to segment words, to match letters shapes and sounds that he never became a confident reader. His brain never reached the higher stages of reading development because it took him so long to connect the earliest parts of the process. He did not have time to think in the medium of print. Unfortunately, some of his teachers considered a reading age as an IQ test. Leo’s sense of self-efficacy plummeted and he became alienated from school. When he was at school, he ‘powered down’. At times, Leo was trapped in classroom settings that classified him as dull, wherein he reacted with predictable disinterest and failed to achieve ‘appropriate’ levels.

However, outwith the institution, Leo, with Dan as trusty helper, began to produce a new framework of communications within which reading and writing was only a piece and not the whole. He used images and sounds to demonstrate his knowledge and understanding and to make his point, supported when necessary by assistive technologies that enabled speech to and from text. He communicated with the tools he found comfortable to use and he persisted in making himself heard and seen. He was, together with others in his community of interest, building and creating a new language that combined many of the features of conventional languages but was more of a hybrid of many different modes of expression. (Burnett 2008)

Leo’s skills lay in making sense not of a body of known content but of contexts that were continually changing. Fortunately he came across teachers who recognised that the pedagogical tools of the 20th century were inconsistent with the skills needed to survive in the 21st where people could always be connected to everyone and everything. In such a world, Leo found that learning to think for himself was more important than simply learning to read and write. Leo and Dan were encouraged to read and analyse graphic novels, emails, blogs, films, games: to read between the lines of text (in many different formats) to which they were exposed. Their horizons were expanding – as were those of his teachers.

In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail. On this screen, now visible to one billion people on earth, the technology of search will transform isolated books into the universal library of all human knowledge. (Kelly 2007).

Understanding this, Leo’s teachers questioned vigorously the young peoples’ assumption that more and faster are necessarily better. Some believed that their pupils’ capacity to find insights, pleasure, pain and some wisdom in oral and written language would be dramatically altered. They felt that this immediate access to information at the touch of a button that capacities to pay attention, infer and reflect would be poorly developed. Some suggested that screen technology may be inhibiting children’s creative engagement with other peoples’ imaginations.

Without guidance, Leo and Dan gave an illusion of knowledge which may have curtailed the more difficult, time-consuming, critical thought processes that lead to wisdom. With facilitating teachers, slow deliberative, deep thinking became as crucial as the rapid fire, spilt second immediacy of decoding of information. They were becoming literate for the Information Age.

Advertisements