When we are working in an online, hyperlinked environment, a search engine no longer determines what we read. Instead upvotes, shared links and proprietary algorithms mold our meaning making and they play an essential role in what we access across a variety of platforms. Comprehension occurs in the cloud, as we increasingly crowd-source our text construction.
Scholars have recognized that reading on the web is different from reading ink-on-paper texts (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, Castek & Henry, 2013). Yet early efforts to understand how instructional texts emerge on the web drew heavily on humanist traditions (Cervetti, Pardeles, Damico, 2001) of critical reading (Spache, 1964). This view of self-directed text construction (Coiro & Dobler, 2007) placed the individual at the center of reading and writing the web. From this viewpoint online instructional texts added additional layers of text complexity and requires us to rethink theoretical models.
Meaning making is much like a meme. It does not belong to or exist in any one person’s head. Just as angry cats and dancing babies spread across the web, the cognitive tools (Scardmeli & Beretier, 1994) we use for meaning making get passed around in communities of shared interests (Gee, 2007). This adds layers of complexity beyond self-directed text construction.
Any definition of instructional text must account for the role of socially complex texts in today’s literacy practices. I see these as being concurrent and recursive artifacts that unfold in digital, print and social media with varying degrees of authority and amplification. These texts are networked and nested within specific online spaces as community members apply layers of meaning and bias in the ways literacy practices are co-created and co-curated. Thus, text complexity can be seen as a matter of links and connections, rather than in terms of lexiles.
To prepare students for the ever-expanding digital and multimodal world, we need self-programmable readers (Castells & Cardosa, 2006). We need students who are able to move across different spaces, identities, and arguments with network fluidity. Our students do not need to know all the answers; they need to be able to curate texts and share answers while engaged in the inquiry process with others (Rheingold, 2014).
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