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Offline Reading

Given focus and purpose, there is nowhere else that you can learn so much, so efficiently, as on a computer. Yet focus and purpose are hard to maintain. Offline text has built-in structures for maintaining purpose and focus. Namely, careful authorship and being offline. Yet offline reading, especially among children, is shrinking. Over the 15 years that I've been teaching, I have seen fewer kids every year with a habit of offline independent reading at home or in school. The same goes for their parents. There are a number of factors.
Factor 1
Time to read authentic texts in school has been decreasing steadily for many years as reading and writing curriculums have become increasingly packed with remedial phonics instruction and computer adaptive explicit instruction. There is a solid foundation of research into the benefits of independent reading relative to overall academic achievement.1 However, the current educational environment is driven by growth that is easy to measure rather than growth with lasting impacts.2 

"The students are learning at a normal developmental rates regardless of our interventions. Let's move skills from each grade level into earlier grade levels and focus on skills that are easy to measure in place of harder to measure but more important ones."

Factor 2
An analysis of my student’s struggle with independent reading shows the primary challenge to be transitioning from a preferred short term activity (generally using electronics) to independent reading.3 A majority of students do not have the self-regulation skills to help them make this transition. They are not conscientious, in the formal sense of the word. No other trait is close in its effect size on a student’s long-term fulfillment and financial stability.4 Developing this trait can be short-circuited by Electronics: modern immersive video games, social media infinite scrolling, endless endless group chats, and so on. Dopamine loops stimulated by electronics usage are addiction in the truest sense of the word, greater even than most schedule I and schedule II drugs.5 This, as measured against the benefits of alternate activities, seems a public health crisis to me.
Next Steps
A reasonably straightforward application of time and energy in advocacy gives us some impact on factor 1. So let's keep doing that. However, it yields little concrete day to day change in the life of a child right now. So let’s take a closer look at factor 2.
We can do something about factor 2. Conscientiousness comes from a set of concrete, teachable metacognitive skills. It’s the root of this sites name. Let’s teach those skills. Here are lessons to introduce these skills. Though it is only repeated practice that will lead any child to master them.
Getting that repeated practice is simply a matter of setting up expectations with a child and consistently maintaining them (taking some factor 2ing from the adults doing the consistent maintaining.) Eventually, a habit is formed, transferrable to adulthood and positively impacting other areas of life.6 What kind of expectations should you set up? Here are a set of well researched and qualitatively test-driven expectations.

1 Cullinan, B. E. (2014). Independent Reading and School Achievement. Reform, 3.

The Value of Independent Reading: Analysis of Research. (n.d.).

2 The effect sizes for explicit instruction are higher than IRH, but only for the limited tool tested. For example, explicit phonics effect size is strong but very limited in scope, reflecting only gains in identifying phonetic units in inauthentic reading contexts and not impacting other areas of reading achievement. Conversely, the effect sizes for IRH reflect gains across a range of ELA achievement measures assessed in authentic contexts: comprehension, vocabulary, composition, and fluency among others.

3 These conclusions are drawn from informal interviews with students and caregivers, as well as selective Lagging Skills & Unsolved Problems diagnostics available at 

4 Eisenberg, N., Duckworth, A. L., Spinrad, T. L., & Valiente, C. (2014). Conscientiousness: Origins in Childhood? Developmental Psychology, 50(5), 1331–1349.

Kim, S., & Kochanska, G. (2019). Evidence for childhood origins of conscientiousness: Testing a developmental path from toddler age to adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 55(1), 196–206.

Sutin, A. R., Costa, P. T., Miech, R., & Eaton, W. W. (2009). Personality and career success: Concurrent and longitudinal relations. European Journal of Personality, 23(2), 71–84.

5 Haynes, T. (2018, April 30). Science in the News. Science in the News.

Kühn, S., Romanowski, A., Schilling, C., Lorenz, R., Mörsen, C., Seiferth, N., Banaschewski, T., Barbot, A., Barker, G. J., Büchel, C., Conrod, P. J., Dalley, J. W., Flor, H., Garavan, H., Ittermann, B., Mann, K., Martinot, J.-L., Paus, T., Rietschel, M., … Gallinat, J. (2011). The neural basis of video gaming. Translational Psychiatry, 1(11), e53–e53.

‌Lorenz, R. C., Gleich, T., Gallinat, J., & Kühn, S. (2015). Video game training and the reward system. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9.

Weinstein, A. M. (2010). Computer and video game addiction-a comparison between game users and non-game users. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36(5), 268–276.

6 Duhigg, C. (2012). The power of habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New York: Random House.

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