English 231 Unplugged

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Reading, Teaching, Writing
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I considered e-book options for my upcoming introductory lit. classes, but I chose a physical book instead, primarily because of the difficulty of teaching and practicing close reading using digital devices that can impede sustained focus.

When we’re online, nothing has our undivided attention, not for long.

The textbook for ENG 231 with a draft of this blog post

Browsing on our smart phones and tablets doesn’t engage our minds the way that close critical reading does. Recent research bears this out: Studies conducted by neuroscientists in collaboration with Michigan State literature professor Natalie Phillips reveal that “close reading activated unexpected areas: parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch. It was as though readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it” (ctd. Thompson and Vendatam).

Similarly, studies of note-taking by researchers at Princeton and UCLA demonstrate that students who wrote their notes longhand rather than typing them “had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who took notes with their laptops” (ctd. in May).

Despite the cognitive benefits of reading offline and putting pen to paper, using those older technologies in the classroom may seem like a step backward. So as the semester approaches, I find myself grappling with how to convey to students the value of putting away their phones. To begin with, I’ll talk about the research I’ve mentioned here.

Works Cited

May, Cindi. “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop.” Scientificamerican.com. Scientific American, Inc., 4 June 2014. Web. 8 Aug. 2014

Thompson, Helen and Shankar Vendatam. “A Lively Mind: Your Brain on Jane Austen.” Narr. Shankar Vendantam. Morning Edition. Nat’l Public Radio, 9 Oct. 2012. NPR.org. Web. 8 Aug. 2014.

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Comments
  1. Lenore Gay says:

    I’m thinking about Tom Robbins. When he talked at James River Writers, I think it was his first time there, he said he’d written every novel on legal pads, with a pencil. He wrote on every other line, leaving room in between to make notes, changes etc. He started out doing this, and said many novels later, he still does it. It’s his process.

    Many 20 year olds may not know his work, but his imagination is wild. As wild as any 20 year olds. He’s also an inspiring speaker. His latest book which he calls a non-memoir and non-autobiography is titled Tibetan Pizza Pie.

    How about a basket by the door of your class? Students drop in cell phones and tablets at the door. Bring a notebook, pencil or pen into the class. An experiment. See what happens besides a lot of grumbling.

  2. janemlucas says:

    Thanks, Lenore. The basket’s appealing. If students don’t comply with the keep-your-phones-and-tablets-stowed-away policy, I may resort to that–or something like it. Perhaps a box labeled “Phone Motel.”

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