I recently tested a theory with a group of my students. “How many of you often read things with words you don’t understand?” I asked. Almost every hand went up. I continued, “What do you when you get to those words?” Barrage of answers: Try and figure it out from context, ignore it, stop reading. A whole slew of answers, but not one kid who picked up a dictionary.
Am I any different? Dictionaries are often inconveniently located when you need one and they break up the flow of the reading. But the problems that accompany this attitude are a vocabulary that never advances forward, and an incomplete understanding of a large percentage of what you read.
I was excited to find a something that could potentially solve the problem. Pretty much all of these issues could be solved with an amazing website: http://www.lingro.com. On the website there’s a place to plug in a URL, and after you press ‘enter’ you see your original webpage, but it’s now an interactive “clickable” dictionary. Any word you don’t know, you just click on it and the definition pops up right there. No need to rummage through your bookshelf and 200 pages to find the word in your dictionary. No interruption to the flow of your reading.
The possibilities for how this can be used in a classroom are virtually endless, and the time saved frees up so much ability for students to focus on the more important critical thought that should really dominate the class.
One final word: I don’t like reading from a computer screen. I print out virtually everything I read if it’s at all long. I don’t think the kids of this generation are at all like me. It’s possible that in the next several decades books will be as obsolete as audio cassettes. Reading on the screen is likely going to be the way our children feel most comfortable.