This morning I promised myself not to touch either hand-held device, my cell phone or i-Pad, for at least five hours today. So far, so good. Lately I’ve acquired the odd habit of setting up arbitrary goals for myself, little mind games where only I know the rules. For example, in June, I told myself ‘no beer for a year.’ I really like beer, and though not trying to punish myself, just wanted to see if I could do it. Last night it got a little tricky because all I wanted to do was go out for a beer and nachos with my hubby, and instead we went through Dairy Queen drive-through and I traded a beer for a Peanut Buster Parfait. I have about one to two of those a year, so I guess I met my quota. Dang, it’s only July, too.
The other goal I set for myself was to try to do Camp NaNoWrMo. It’s July 7, and that means 6 days of only blog writing, which “doesn’t count.” All that’s happened is I am acutely aware that I haven’t written any drafts of fictional substance for months, and I’m overthinking everything. Too distracted, too grumpy, too much caffeine and not enough water. Focus, woman! Focus!
This post is born of the fantastic Facebook pages/groups I’m honored to be in, specifically Notice & Note. Subscribers/members tend to post two types of questions: ‘What are some good text suggestions for X age group/Y skill or literary device,’ and ‘Does anyone have any suggestions on how to track student growth?’ I’ve already explored my plans for The Book Whisperer’s ideas, and am very excited about the how/why.
Now for the ‘what.’
I can’t read anymore. If a real, paper and bone book is in my hands, I have misplaced my reading glasses, or the light’s too far away, or I can’t get comfortable. If the text is on my Kindle, no problem, except something is kind of broken right now in my reader brain. Perhaps the paradox of choice is hitting me. I have too many unread books. Or perhaps it’s related to the ideas in this article, Why Can’t We Read Anymore by Hugh McGuire . And now I realize when I was gaming too much or flitting between devices, my brain seduced my actions with dopamine:
So, every new email you get gives you a little flood of dopamine. Every little flood of dopamine reinforces your brain’s memory that checking email gives a flood of dopamine. And our brains are programmed to seek out things that will give us little floods of dopamine. Further, these patterns of behaviour start creating neural pathways, so that they become unconscious habits: Work on something important, brain itch, check email, dopamine, refresh,dopamine, check Twitter, dopamine, back to work. Over and over, and each time the habit becomes more ingrained in the actual structures of our brains.
How can books compete?
Well, this blunt and honest conversation will take place at the beginning of my school year with students, that is what digitalization has done to their brains. All of our brains. Last year, my students who were readers were the ones who tended not to have a lot of television or screen time (remember those hippie parents, back in the day? Who didn’t have TVs? I gasped in bewildered horror anytime I came across a situation like that.)
Is the same thing happening to (other) teachers? Are teachers just not reading as much as they used to, grabbing a few YA novels or short stories, and curating them for themselves? Or it is just a means to share tried and true texts with one another? Probably the latter. But there may be some instances where it’s the former, or perhaps I’m projecting my own failings.
I have my list of books/stories to share. I have an extensive classroom library, both hard copy and digital. There are apps and sites galore to help teachers find texts. There are news outlets, story sites, like This American Life, Storycorp, The Moth, Radiolab, etc. to explore, to name a few. It would take a lifetime to read or listen to all the infinite stories. Sites like Artifact App and CommonLit help educators ask the essential questions to guide reading, too. And there are still libraries, with real librarians, who love nothing more than to talk and share ideas about texts. But that involves getting out of my bathrobe and the house. Hmmm. Tough call. (Oh, like you’ve never hung out in your robe until 1PM on summer break!)
So what are we teachers looking for when we ask others about text suggestions? We’re looking the same things as when we recommend books to other adults. We want something relevant, that may speak to us, that we can find some universal truth, or help us connect. And this is where the digital dopamine can’t help us: texts, be they on the screen or paper, give us a much more powerful sensation than digital ones. Helping students understand these important brain functions will help them understand when a person hurts them on line, it feels real because our brains don’t know the difference. We want to share stories, and that drive gives me hope, for my students, and for myself.
I am reading books now more than I have in years. I have more energy, and more focus than I’ve had for ages. I have not fully conquered my digital dopamine addiction, though, but it’s getting there. I think reading books is helping me retrain my mind for focus.
While on the hunt for great texts, I plan on using my powers of digital organization and keep track, make a list, and add notes. But for the moment, I’m just going to make a sandwich.