Saturday, October 26, 2013

For your pleasure in this present state

Reading for pleasure and self-improvement has an enduring and emotive appeal, and through its close association with typographic print, with the book, and with immersion in literary fiction the idea has significant currency in recent debates in literacy education. This is indeed welcome when understood as a re-statement of the importance of the liberal arts curriculum in an educational landscape dominated by accountability and assessment regimes that carve up learning into measurable parcels. In England the backwash of testing in spelling and grammar is emblematic of how progress in literacy can result in learning that is parcelled up and quantified. As a counter-narrative then, reading for pleasure evokes everything that is good from individual choice and independence to interest-led autonomous learning - qualities that by their very nature elude measurement. Yet even though the challenge to an atomised and autonomous model of literacy is desperately needed, this should not place the idea of reading for pleasure beyond scrutiny. Reading for pleasure sits at the centre of a nexus of ideas about literacy that constitute an ideology that requires careful examination. Reading for pleasure derives its justification from a number of different traditions. What the Cox Report called 'cultural heritage' is a justification that draws on (well-deserved) pride in the tradition of English literature. How empathy and vicarious experience may develop moral virtue is a second justification, and one popularly articulated in Pinker's recent work. And since no educational debate now seems complete without a contribution from neuroscience, the influence of what we presume is immersive reading on our neural pathways surfaces here. But what might the challenges be to reading for pleasure in our densely mediated, highly mobile and increasingly digital world? This is the project I'm now embarking upon! Watch this space.....

Friday, October 04, 2013

The pleasure principle

Good quality research data on reading for pleasure is always a useful complement to the rhetoric on the topic. So it's great to see the clear message that 'children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers' (who presumably don't). This comes from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies report here. If you delve into the report you see that the key influence is defined in rather broader terms - 'home reading culture' and 'leisure reading' are described in some detail and these are to my mind rather more sophisticated concepts. However, put the headlines alongside this and you might quickly get the picture that print culture is doomed and with it the written word. I don't actually think is the case - there's probably more reading and writing going on with everyday uses of technology than ever before in history, and there are also more possibilities for narrative pleasure. But digital media are an 'and' not an 'or'. Children and young people simply have far more textual choices than ever before. We know about the claims made about bedtime stories - but rather than simply accepting this as a privileged ritual (or a ritual of the privileged), we need to understand more about what's going on. I'd put my money on the shared endeavour of skilled and apprentice meaning-makers making sense of text together. If this is accurate then the benefits could extend to any media, unlocking a wider palette of pleasures.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Social media: evolution and change

Over the last few years blogging has become a bit of an occasional pursuit for me, and I've been wondering why. The answer came to me last week, as I reflected on three rather different incidents - all relating in rather different ways to that question. Firstly, I was reading a paper on academic blogging that was so radically different in emphasis to the study I did with Julia Davies (review), that it made me wonder what an academic blog actually was in the first place! We had written about the first wave of blogging, and looked at how academics took up the practice and how, in quite creative ways they/we performed their academic identities online. This paper, on the other hand, took a much more limited view and addressed how academic bloggers wrote about and lobbied for change in university learning and teaching. Secondly, a round-robin email (to all staff) announced the VC's new blog post on MOOCs - one in which he makes reference to the impact of digital distribution on the music industry (draw your own conclusions). But it wasn't really about the content it was the mere fact that someone in a senior managerial position was using the blog to stimulate discussion - and canvassing readership through an institutional mailout. Like the first incident it all seemed to me very safe and mainstream, as if the edge had gone out of blogging. Then, thirdly, another completely unrelated incident. A random email from a researcher who produces materials for college students who'd read a rant on referencing I'd posted back in 2006, in the first flush of blogging. My despondency over the institutionalization and narrowing down of blogging was somewhat alleviated. Your humble blogger's voice might just be heard!