Are both linear and non-linear reading skills equally important for students to learn? How can we as librarians and future librarian ensure students are learning how to use both skills?
Before we dive in and start answering those questions, let’s start with some quick definitions, shall we?
Linear reading is the traditional mode of reading we’re all taught early on; reading left to right, from start to finish.
Non-linear reading therefore, is the opposite; reading that jumps from section to section and often without ever finishing any particular reading selection.
Great. Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s talk about that first question: “Are both linear and non-linear reading skills equally important for students to learn?”
Because linear reading is the traditional method we were all taught as children, I think there is a tendency to think of it as “real reading” and to think of non-linear reading as lazy, disorganized, subpar reading. However, we need to remember that non-linear reading is, in fact, a very useful skill. Non-linear reading is what we use to skim and find information quickly. If you were looking for a number in a phone book (I know, I know, what an antiquated example :-)) you could certainly use linear reading to find that number. However, non-linear reading will allow you to find it much more quickly and efficiently.
So, to be successful finders of information, both forms are reading are necessary and important skills that are students should be learning and practicing.
Which brings us to question number two for this post, “How can we as librarians and future librarian ensure students are learning how to use both skills?”
I’m not sure I have a good answer for this one. I think the best way to tackle this is the way we tackle any skill: practice, practice, practice. We need to provide our students with lessons on the differences between linear and non-linear reading, when each method is appropriate, and give them ample guided practice in using both methods to locate information. Maybe we could create a world wide web scavenger hunt where students start at one website and using a combination of linear and non-linear reading, and page/link following they could locate information and answer questions that require them to absorb and synthesize the information they find? That’s the best idea I have at this time but I’ll keep looking and post any new ideas I find here. I’d also love to hear anyone else’s ideas on how we can provide students with practice with these different reading skills.