Turning Reading On Its Head!

I love how blogging provides an opportunity for discourse and a look at different perspectives. That said, often when we write blog posts, and provide questions to inspire debate — or even just conversation — there’s often a lot of agreement with the initial post. This is why I love what happened during dinner on Wednesday night.

After a jam-packed day of talking and sharing at Minds on Media, I was thrilled to go out for dinner with some fellow educators at the conference. I got to spend the night with Timothy, his amazing son, Max, who helped present on virtual reality at the Minds on Media event, and Michelle.

During our dinner conversation, we started to talk about reading. I made a comment that I’ve made many times beforethat it’s really sad to see the limited amount of “for pleasure” reading that happens nowadays. Very few children seem to read — and finish — books just for fun, and I continue to contemplate why this might be the case. Usually when I make a comment such as this one, fellow educators agree with me, but Michelle did something great on Wednesday night: she pushed back. She disagreed. 

Michelle gave an alternative perspective. She said that maybe the problem is how we view “reading.” We’re looking at reading as “finishing a book,” but what about the reading that happens in video gamesSome games require so much reading and thinking that completing a game would be equivalent to finishing an incredibly long book. And students need to read, and think about what they read, in order to meet with success, finish the game, and get the points. Michelle, Timothy, and Max all discussed different games where this is the case. As somebody that has very little knowledge of video games, I still cannot remember the names they mentioned, but they all agreed that the reading requirement was huge. 

Is this kind of reading good enough? I initially pushed back. Shouldn’t children have to read books? Aren’t they better? I shared my concerns about the amount of time in front of a screen — and I still have these concerns — but then Michelle mentioned how much reading is done on a screen. She’s right. As I spoke about the benefits of books, I thought about the great mystery novel waiting for me on my iPad that I was hoping to finish reading that night. This is the kind of reading that excites me, but maybe video game reading is the kind that excites other people: both adults and children.

I then started to think about the EQAO Reading Surveys that students complete in Grades 3 and 6. Often there are many children that articulate that they don’t like to read, but would these results change if children (and adults) considered video game reading under the “reading umbrella?” Even if these digital text forms are taken into account, I wonder how many children think about this when they complete these surveys. I wonder how many adults would consider “video game reading” as valuable reading time. Michelle asked me if this matters, and I think that it does.

My own concerns around video games and screen time impacted on how I viewed this kind of reading. This made me wonder though, what’s the message that I’m giving to kids? If children work through more difficult decoding tasks as part of these games, but struggle with some lower level texts, do they still see themselves as capable readers or do they see themselves as struggling? How do we perceive them? Michelle is making me wonder if our opinions on video games — and sometimes even our lack of understanding over how the games work and the skills needed to succeed at them — impacts on the message we give to kids and how children view themselves. 

Our deep conversation continued throughout dinner, and ended with Michelle sharing her thinking around media literacy as an “umbrella for all other literacies.” It’s really how we take in information and interpret the world. Michelle shared The Association For Media Literacy Website, which includes fantastic blog posts that really link reading, writing, oral communication, and media literacy. This made me think more about how I’ve addressed media literacy in the past. It was often an afterthought. Usually a quick viewing of a video with students or the creation of a poster, allowed me to assess this language strand. But what kind of disservice was I doing here for kids? Could a deeper, more critical look at media literacy, actually help address the reading goals that our Board is focused on achievingI wonder if it’s time to re-think reading and the impact that media has on reading AND on student success at reading. What do you think? Let’s extend this conversation that started on Wednesday night over The Falls!

A beautiful look at The Falls! They really do look like a dragon in the morning. #bit17

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8 thoughts on “Turning Reading On Its Head!

    • Thanks Ramona! The discussion really made me re-look at reading. I’m not sure that I’m ready to just give up on books, but is this other reading equally as valuable? Maybe it is.


  1. I love reading and I love books, but I started playing video games when I was nine, only five years after I started reading books. I understand the prejudice completely because part of me (mainly the English teacher part) shares it, but I’ve also had amazing reading experiences inside games. I’ve also been forced to become much more mathematically fluent because gaming led me to coding games in the early 80s and coding games in BASIC required a lot of technical reading to get a handle on. Games open access to reading opportunities (like texts on programming) that I otherwise never would have considered as a maths-averse child.

    A couple of games that come to mind as shining examples of reading are The Beast Within (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beast_Within:_A_Gabriel_Knight_Mystery) and Planescape: Torment (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planescape:_Torment), both of which could be better described as interactive narratives than games, and both of which demanded nuanced reading of circumstance, innuendo and figurative language to solve. Both also had climaxes that rival any book I’ve ever read. Alanna and I played Gabriel Knight 2 while living in Japan and it was something we rushed home to do every night. I’ve never enjoyed group reading, but I did for that.

    In later games such as massively multiplayer games like Guild Wars, I’ve had to read and write in order to function effectively as multiple characters in complex scenarios that seldom played out the same way twice because of all the human interaction going on. Reading sneaks into all gaming experiences, and being bad at it can mean the difference between success and failure.

    An argument could be made that simple twitch games don’t offer the same quality and depth of reading, but there are interactive entertainment (aka: game) titles out there that shatter the prejudice. Transliteracy, the idea that reading is a skill related to more than long form narratives, is trying to shift that prejudice. https://threadbarebeauty.com/?s=transliteracy – not all games offer great literacy opportunities, but shutting them all out isn’t wise either.

    That was a great dinner. If we could have had a My Dinner With Andre film crew recording us in that awesome setting, it would have been publishable!

    • Thank you so much, Tim, for the comments and all of the links! I am going to check them out now. You’re right: it was an incredible dinner. So many blog posts could have come out of it, and it made me chuckle that you actually published a post around this dinner at around the time that I was doing the same thing.

      I love how both you and Michelle pushed me thinking of games, and the value of some of these games when it comes to reading. Having Max talk about his experiences were also so valuable, as they pushed me to think about games differently. I realized over this dinner how little knowledge I have when it comes to video games, and maybe this is part of the problem. Since I don’t understand them totally, my views are prejudiced, and maybe I’m not extending/supporting/valuing this learning in the way that I could. I wonder how many other educators might feel the same way and the impact that this could have on kids.


      • I was just looking over Torment again and discovered one of the original developers has re-released an updated online version of it: https://www.beamdog.com/

        He was one of the original developers on it – all of the titles they did from Baldur’s Gate to Icewind Dale were deep, rich-narrative, interactive stories. If the re-releases follow the originals closely they’ll reel in a lot of new fans. If you’ve got reluctant readers who dig fantasy, this’ll be perfect.

        • Thank you so much for a link to this updated version, Tim! I love your final comment. What a great way to engage our reluctant readers, and possibly offer another option when the other things we try aren’t working. This tells me a lot about you as an educator: it’s all about the kids!


  2. I think that the media strand of language is overlooked a lot, but with the increasing number of types of media, it is becoming more and more important. There are lots of ways to overlap media with reading and writing, many ways to consider audience and purpose which are at the heart of both skills. Yes video is media, but so is social media and online news sources that involved both text and video (and sometimes ads) and blogs and lots of avenues to do research and learn about things in a variety of formats. I am by far not an expert on how to find the right balance of it all, but I’m sure that if we consider your common question of what’s right for this child at this time then the outcome will be a positive one.

    • Thanks Melanie! I think the question is definitely a key one. Media is certainly important, and I think often gets overlooked. There so many great ways to tie it in with oral language, reading, and writing. Curious to know what others have tried and what they do. Thanks for weighing in on this!


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