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Ian O'Byrne

You cannot teach a crab to walk straight. - Aristophanes In issue of the TL;DR Newsletter - #identity


Ian O'Byrne

The Organized Mind: How to better structure our time in the age of social media and constant distraction

The debate about attention and the pelthora of online and digital media ranges on as these Internet technologies become even more ubiquitous in our lives. 

With this there is a concern that this level of attention is making our thinking process function at a more superficial level. This argument takes many forms...from the "Google is making us dumber" discussion, to the "all kids will have/get ADHD when they're adults" framing.

I think there is a possible balance in these perspectives, and an opportunity to think about the natural state of the mind. Furthermore, I don't believe that there is anything substantially new or different from the texts and tools and the adoption we've had in the past.

In examining this argument, the bookmarked site came across my newsfeed. Several quotes jumped out to me.

We can’t truly think about or attend to all these things at once, so our brains flit from one to the other, each time with a neurobiological cost. Once on a task, our brains function best if we stick to it. To pay attention to one thing means that we don’t pay attention to something else. Attention is a limited-capacity resource.

This sense of attention provides opportunities to think, debrief, and focus on one element at a time. Attention is a valuable commodity in pedagogy. Whether the classroom is online or face-to-face, there is a need to focus on the learner, motivation, and garnered attention.

This daydreaming mode constitutes a distinctive and special brain state of great creativity. It exerts a pull on consciousness; it eagerly shifts the brain into mind-wandering when you’re not engaged in a task, and it hijacks your consciousness if the task you’re doing gets boring.

As I get busier, and busier, I've lost the time needed for just daydreaming, or goofing off. I found the pleasure for this recently as I was drawing illustrations for a block post on blockchain. These opportunities to let the brain rest, and regain creativity may come in these new opportunities to rest, and let the brain regain stasis. The brain needs to wander.

Daydreaming or mind-wandering, we now know, is a natural state of the brain. This accounts for why we feel so refreshed after it, and why vacations and naps can be so restorative. The tendency for this system to take over is so powerful that its called the default mode. This mode is a resting brain state, when your brain is not engaged in a purposeful task, when you’re sitting on a sandy beach or relaxing in your easy chair with a single malt Scotch (Glenfarclas, neat, please), and your mind wanders fluidly from topic to topic. It’s not just that you can’t hold on to any one thought from the rolling stream, it’s that no single thought is demanding a response.

As I stated earlier, there is a need to focus on attention as a commodity, and allow the brain to wander. In this we're possibly identifying opportunities to bring the brain back to stasis. There are opportunities in surfing the web, listening to music. Build and creating in digital spaces. I'm recently finding opportunities for this in daily meditation. 

Ian O'Byrne

Review of Chapter Submission for Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts

6 min read

Repositioning Online Reading To A Central Location In The Language Arts

Kervin, Mantei, & Leu

Review of Chapter Submission

Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts, 4th Edition


The submitted manuscript identifies a much-needed step in the advancement of the integration of technology in literacy instruction. The chapter is of high interest the educators and researchers that would use the Handbook as guidance in the field. The chapter continues to make the case for why we need this thread of instruction in the classroom, but also builds this case by providing a more global perspective to these activities. Finally, the submitted manuscript includes connections to other fields of research to make it more inclusive and connected to related work in the field. For these reasons, I recommend the publication of this manuscript in the Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts.

Making the case for the centrality of online reading

The Internet is the dominant text of our generation, yet we continue to have to make the case for why digital texts and tools should be authentically embedded in classroom instruction. The authors of this piece have been at the forefront of pushing this agenda and continue this important work in the submitted manuscript. The authors expertly frame this chapter for the handbook by starting with the framing of the social practices necessary for these new spaces and contextualize this with guidance from the worlds of economics and global development. With this subtle framing, they move on to paint a picture of the need for these literacies while considering a more global focus for this discussion. It is this nod to the more global aspect of online reading and literacy that I most appreciate in this submission.

As these new and digital literacies continue to become much more ubiquitous across global spaces, I believe we need to continue to push and advocate for those less fortunate that may not have access to these texts or spaces. If the inclusion and use of online texts in the classroom is a necessary and powerful element, we need to advocate for opportunities for all learners in global classrooms. Literacy is a powerful force and this is augmented by the influx of the Internet and other communication technologies. As governments and businesses increasingly monitor and adjust our online reading habits, we need a global population that fully understands the challenges and complexity associated with being digitally literate.

Connections to other fields and perspectives 

            In reviewing this chapter submission I also appreciate the nuanced changes in framing this work from previous examinations of online reading. The primary focus on disciplinary literacy recontextualizes this work within another dominant perspective in literacy education and research. This first theoretical perspective makes it easier for educators to align the reading of online texts with current initiatives that draw most of the attention in the English Language Arts classroom. Much of the challenge in carving out time for these new and digital literacies in instruction is that the Common Core State Standards and other frameworks often dominate the focus. The role and use of technology is often given a back seat, or ignored as educators and curricular coaches frame pedagogy. By focusing first on disciplinary literacy, the authors truly seek to reposition online reading.

            In the review of the chapter I was also excited to see a focus on theories of materiality and multimodality guiding this work. It is these examples of material culture that provide important perspective on the skills and practices associated with online reading. Furthermore, I believe this inclusion adds to the global perspectives that are imbued throughout this submission. This provides connections to other perspectives on new and digital literacies, and makes this a much more accommodating and inclusive guide to educators making room for online reading in their classroom.

Actionable advice for the literacy educator

            The remainder of the chapter presents granular guidance for the literacy educator and pre-service teacher as they identify opportunities to make this happen in their classroom. Too often we hear that educators “don’t get technology,” this submission provides approachable, actionable advice for integrating online reading into classroom activities. The authors also do a stellar job of identifying and addressing most of the arguments, or counter narratives that may exist as we integration technology into literacy instruction. An example of this is evidenced in sections that address assessment practices, simulated assessments, and the basic computer skills needed to operate in these spaces. The authors effectively balance theory, perspectives, actionable advice, and questions that remain in this work.

            I also appreciate the focus on beginning with younger readers and connections between emergent reading and online reading. In far too many examinations of new and digital literacies we identify the skilled and less proficient use of these skills and strategies with a population of adolescent or adult learners. We understand that learners develop their learning and literacy roadmap for their future from Pre-K up through third grade and then beyond. Yet, very little is know about best principles associated with brining online reading and associated literacies into the context of emergent reading or soon after. The authors interject this discussion by bringing connections to online reading into the work and research in emergent reading. This has the potential to guide and motivate future literacy educators and researchers.

Repositioning a central location

            The submitted manuscript presents a necessary, and forward thinking chapter for the Handbook. I believe the materials attempt to situate the reader in the current milieu, and then prognosticate for that crystal ball that you requested. The focus of the text is thankfully shifted to a more global perspective. These threads are evident across the text and woven in to the conclusion. The theoretical perspectives are accommodating, and make for a much more inclusive read as educators try to identify places to embed online reading into instruction. Finally, the guidance and materials presented to operationalize this in the classroom is actionable and specific enough to guide all learners. I believe the authors have developed a piece that certainly carves out a spot in the English Language Arts classroom and in the process helps reposition it to a more central location.