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The Difference Between Lateral Reading And Vertical Reading



by Terry Heick

If one thing changes, everything changes.

Reading, for example—it has changed because writing has changed.

Writing has changed because the barriers to and means of publishing have changed.

Publishing has changed because technology changed, which itself changed because technology begets technology and the people crafting it just can’t help themselves.

Technology has a seemingly overwhelming and undeniable momentum. Which brings us to reading.

What Is Literacy?

In Why Students Should Read I wrote,

“Comprehension, however, is somewhere closer to your stomach. It’s personal–where the reader takes the internalized symbols and, leveraging their own schema and background knowledge, turns the symbols into something they can recognize and their soul winks and spins. This is a person making meaning.”

The point is that your ‘gut’ and its ongoing hunches about what you’re reading are a core part of literacy.

In Why So Many Students Don’t Like To Read, I again mentioned the ‘human’ side of reading:

“But that doesn’t excuse us from our own failures in how we teach reading in schools. We give students processes for writing and tools for reading without stopping to humanize the whole effort. Mechanized literacy has all sorts of troubling implications. You and I–we teach students to overvalue their own opinions when they’re still often baseless and uninformed, which is like teaching them to read without helping them to truly understand why they should read.”

It was in this context that I read a post on NPR about ‘lateral reading.’

What Is Lateral Reading?

In brief, lateral reading (as opposed to vertical reading) is the act of verifying what you’re reading as you’re reading it. More on that in a moment.

In the NPR post (centered around the idea of cutting through the ‘fake news’), the author linked to a paper published by Stanford in October that explained the strategy.

So, reading laterally, I stopped reading the NPR post and started skimming the paper. The abstract of the paper appears below (paragraph breaks and emphases mine).

“The Internet has democratized access to information but in so doing has opened the floodgates to misinformation, fake news, and rank propaganda masquerading as dispassionate analysis.

To investigate how people determine the credibility of digital information, we sampled 45 individuals: 10 Ph.D. historians, 10 professional fact-checkers, and 25 Stanford University undergraduates. We observed them as they evaluated live websites and searched for information on social and political issues.

Historians and students often fell victim to easily manipulated features of websites, such as official-looking logos and domain names. They read vertically, staying within a website to evaluate its reliability.

In contrast, fact-checkers read laterally, leaving a site after a quick scan and opening up new browser tabs in order to judge the credibility of the original site.

Compared to the other groups, fact-checkers arrived at more warranted conclusions in a fraction of the time. We contrast insights gleaned from the fact-checkers’ practices with common approaches to teaching web credibility.”

Lateral Reading As Smart Reading

Lateral reading sounded immediately familiar–reading ‘across’ texts sequentially, primarily for the purpose of evaluating the credibility of a text. The process is simple enough–to navigate misleading data, ‘fake news,’ and full-on dishonest and even harmful rhetoric, readers will separate opinions from facts, identify crucial/relevant claims therein, and then evaluate them without finishing the original text.


For example, imagine you come across a data point on screen-time for children. Maybe the statistic sounds far-fetched (e.g., “Children ages 8-14 spend an average of 12.6 hours a day staring at a screen). Instead of continuing to read by either accepting the data without consideration or being skeptical and eroding the credibility of everything else you read from then on, ‘lateral reading’ would have you stop and fact-check that data point.

Most commonly this would mean opening up a new tab on your browser and searching for related data in your go-to search engine. After verifying, refuting, or otherwise contextualizing the data in question, you’d return to the original text and continue reading. My guess is that this is something more strong, critical readers do naturally without thinking of it as a ‘strategy.’

But students are usually students because they’re still developing their reading muscles, and so we have to label, name, practice, and otherwise emphasize things ‘good readers do’ naturally in hopes that they’ll mimic those efforts themselves.

Ignoring how this practice flies in the face of the call to multi-task less (e.g., fewer browser tabs) and ‘focus on one thing at a time’ more, when reading non-fiction digital texts (or watching a YouTube video for that matter), lateral reading seems like common sense when used accurately.

‘4 Moves & A Habit’

In the NPR post, the author also referred to a larger reading and evaluation process of which ‘lateral reading’ is a part. The strategy comes from a free online textbook on evaluating digital sources of information. It is called ‘4 moves and a habit,’ which goes something like this:

Check for previous work: Look around to see whether someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research. [Some places to look: WikipediaSnopesPolitifact and NPR’s own Fact Check website.]

Go upstream to the source: Most Web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information. Is it a reputable scientific journal? Is there an original news media account from a well-known outlet? If that is not immediately apparent, then move to step 3.

Read laterally: Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.

Circle back: If you get lost or hit dead ends or find yourself going down a rabbit hole, back up and start over.

Evaluating What You Read As You Read

The big idea here seems to be seeing the text-in-context–as connected to other texts, data sources, readers, publishing platforms, and all of their inherent biases.

A takeaway for readers or teachers of readers? For a novice or even intermediate reader, reading a text in isolation—especially a digital text in 2018–in isolation is dangerous.

Of course, this is all parallel to what teachers have been trying to do for eons: teach students to evaluate the credibility of text, claims, information, data, primary and secondary source documents, etc. That part isn’t ‘new.’

But what is new is how and where most of our daily reading happens. It is insufficient to simply think of reading as ‘digital’ or even ‘digital/social.’

In an era of well-funded propaganda (e.g., Russian sponsorship of facebook ‘news’ stories), literacy itself is insufficient. It has to be paired with critical thinking to move from unidirectional, passive consumption to omnidirectional, fluid, dynamic, active ‘sense-making.’

‘Active sense-making’ depends on the unique experience and schema of each reader–the questions, mental imagery, and ongoing pattern of hunches that allows readers to read.

More than ever, literacy means careful and prudent thoughtfulness. Lateral reading is a crude but repeatable form of that.

In a time when there are more ‘texts’ available than at any time in human history and many of those ‘texts’ were created from the ground up—using endlessly accessible analytics and data, A/B testing, and click-funnels—to mislead readers, reading has to be an ongoing practice of instinct and criticism.

The books and poems and rhymes you remember as a child still exist, but they dwell in a different context.

This is the future, and the simple, easy reading you remember is gone.

If you’d like to read more–or have your students do so in the future –you can find the full post I referenced above on NPR.

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11 Underlying Assumptions Of Digital Literacy



11 Underlying Assumptions Of Digital Literacy

by Terry Heick

In understanding the shift from literacy to digital literacy–or rather to understand them both in their own native contexts–it may help to take a look at the underlying assumptions of digital literacy.

This means looking at what’s changing, why it’s changing, and what that means for education.

1. Schools should teach the content that matters most.

Put another way: We should promote the cognitive growth of the kinds of “things” that help people make their lives better.

2. People communicate through a variety of means chief among them reading and writing.

Put another way: Reading and writing are common and critical.

3. Literacy is about both skills (e.g., reading and writing) and understandings (e.g., when, why, and how to express and communicate ideas).

Put another way: Literacy isn’t any one thing, but rather represents a person’s ability and tendency to communicate and be communicated to.

4. Through practice, literacy skills will change with or without academic guidance. Thus, promoting literacy is a matter of transforming that reckless change to growth.

Put another way: Through practice, media users will, for better or for worse, ‘get better’ at communicating through technology. Through analysis, planning, modeling, scaffolding, and practice of our own, as educators, we can facilitate more strategic growth.

5. Literacy is unique in that it affects almost all other formal and informal learning, across all content areas, grade levels, and professional fields.

Put another way: Literacy is crazy important.




6. Digital technology changes literacy–becomes digital literacy.

Put another way: Technology isn’t just about connecting; ideas are like fluid, adapting to the vessels that hold them.

7. Among these changes in the shift from literacy to digital literacy are the quantity, frequency, endurance, and tone of how we communicate.

Put another way: Abundance changes everything. When you can communicate almost any thought anytime, anywhere, things change. (See whimsy, snark, cyber-bullying, passive aggressiveness, skimming-abuse, devaluing of quality data and content, and other effects of this abundance.)

8. Holistically, then, literacy is literacy; on a more practical level, however, digital literacy creates slightly unique needs in terms of both skills and understandings.

Put another way: If literacy is different, what developing readers and writers need to know is different.

9. This could mean a lot of different things, from knowledge of the nuance of social media platforms (e.g., subtweeting), to acronyms, to quicker transitions between ideas, unique structures (shorter paragraphs) to social dynamics imposed on almost everything.

Put another way: It’s complicated and only going to get worse.

10. Eventually this will produce new genres of literature and media (e.g., transmedia, gamified social experiences, blurring of video games and movies, blurring of blogs, books, and transcriptions, etc.)

Put another way: See #7.

11. For now, this requires educators to reconsider what it means to read and write.

Put another way: That means us.

11 Underlying Assumptions Of Digital Literacy; image attribution jennydowning
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4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers



ideas-for-motivating-adolescent-male-readers4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers

contributed by Kenny McKee

It’s no secret that state and national assessments continue to indicate that male readers lag behind female readers in literacy and literacy skills.

The gap tends to grow larger as students enter adolescence. It’s also no secret that many students dislike reading — in class or at home. Just ask a high school teacher…or a teenage boy. While it’s not true that all teenage boys dislike reading, there is a growing trend of many becoming unmotivated readers.

Obviously, students who are resistant to reading are unlikely to get better at it. Here are four ideas for motivating adolescent male readers.

4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers

1. Focus On The Now

Oftentimes, teachers emphasize the importance of reading skills or reading content by saying, “You will need this for the test,” or “You will need this for college,” or “When you get to the real world, you’ll need to be able to do this.” Well, students are living in the real world right now and for the most part, they have real concerns about their lives that they want to solve.

Many boys (and teenagers overall) like to know how learning impacts their lives in the moment, and they are generally not concerned with how schoolwork relates to an unclear future. Focusing on the future can lead to procrastination, since, to young men, the future seems a long time away (Smith & Wilhelm, 2002). Also, teachers can lose focus on students’ needs in the present.

We can make the reading we choose for whole-class instruction more motivating by relating it to the ‘here and now.’ Survey your students to determine what they want to learn, and select reading materials aligned with their interests. Have students—male and female readers—create products, presentations, or skits from their reading materials.

Many boys will readily engage in activities that ask them to create something meaningful or to perform for their peers. Also, consider designing inquiry units where students research answers to questions that concern teens, such as “Is the senior year of high school necessary?” or “Is love really all you need?” Weaving literature and informational texts around such topics can motivate many students, especially if students have some voice in what the inquiry topics will be.

2. Use A Variety Of Text


In some schools, there is a narrow view of what constitutes literacy. Even with the adoption of Common Core State Standards that emphasize informational text, the primary focus of secondary English language arts classes, especially in high schools, is often the study of literature. Male readers engage in many other forms of literacy that traditionally are not valued by teachers. Since many boys do not read teacher-privileged literary fiction texts at home, many of them classify themselves as non-readers, even if they do extensive reading from the Internet, magazines, and newspapers (Cavazos-Kottke, 2005).

One solution that can have tremendous positive effects on motivation is incorporating self-selected reading as part of the English language arts classroom. Conferring with students individually over self-chosen reading provides opportunities to validate and support boys’ independent reading. Once you have learned a bit more about your male students’ reading preferences, you can find texts with similar genres, themes, or topics to include in whole-class reading. You can also better select texts for a classroom library.

3. Set Them Up For Success

Many boys need to feel like they can accomplish a task in order to even attempt it. Thus, goals must be perceived as achievable in order for boys to feel competent. The most-motivating activities offer success and demonstrate evidence of growth (Cleveland, 2011).

Scaffolding and differentiation strategies can contribute to developing a sense of competence. For example, many teachers use Newsela, a site that allows the user to alter the reading complexity of recent news stories. Students can even self-select their own readlng levels based upon factors such as familiarity with the topic, their reading purpose, and their comprehension.

Another option for students is using social scaffolding techniques such as Say Something. Students can select reading partners and then take turns reading, frequently stopping to discuss their comprehension of the text. Sentence starters can be used to help students initiate those conversations.

4. Use Male Reading Role Models

Many educators believe that a ‘Boy Code’ that stems from an absence of positive male role models, the massive influence of the media’s distorted images of masculinity, and the fear of being labeled ‘feminine’ impacts reading motivation. Because girls generally develop literacy skills at an earlier age, many boys perceive reading as a feminine activity. This perception leads to some boys shunning reading. Since they do not participate in school reading, they become less proficient at it, which perpetuates their lack of motivation (Cleveland, 2011).

Role models for male readers are important for infiltrating the beliefs of the ‘Boy Code.’ Many people point to the under-representation of males in the teaching profession, especially in English classrooms, as a factor giving the ‘Boy Code’ more power. Some studies have found that bringing successful men into schools helps. Some evidence of this claim is that boys in wealthier districts generally report reading more often and have higher reading assessment scores because their fathers are likely to have jobs where literacy is valued.

These boys are more likely to view literacy as a masculine trait (Sadowski, 2010). Especially for boys living in poverty, it is important for male educators to discuss their reading and the importance of literacy in their lives. In addition, having successful and influential community members share the ways they use reading can be enlightening to young men.

Kenneth McKee is a literacy and instructional coach with Buncombe County Schools in Asheville, NC. He is a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. To learn more about his work, follow him on Twitter (@kennycmckee) or visit his website; 4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers; image attribution flickr user gammarayproduction

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A Reading Comprehension Tool To Simplify Text



reading-comprehension-toolA Useful Reading Comprehension Tool To Simplify Text

by TeachThought Staff

Need a reading comprehension tool to simplify texts for students?

Something practical, along the lines of our “How To Google Search by Reading Level,” and Conversion Chart For Reading Level Measurement Tools? You may find some use in rewordify.

In short, you copy/paste text to be ‘simplified,’ and it does its thing. It attempts to simplify the text at the vocabulary level (as opposed to syntatical, structural, or idea level). Nonetheless, when vocabulary is the barrier, it does the trick. The replacements don’t always do what they should–simplify the text to make it more readable for struggling readers, or students reading beyond their natural level. Sometimes the definitions are themselves confusing, as they add an additional cognitive movement the student has to make, internalizing this now sterile definition back into some kind of meaning.


In our brief use, we’ve found it useful in the right circumstance. You can’t copy/paste a chapter from a book and hand it to a child to read as a ‘modified text’ that has been ‘personalized’ for them. It’d simply make a mess of the text, and likely ruin the reading experience.

What you can do, however, is use it to simplify short excerpts for individual readers, or for a whole-class read. You can also let students use it themselves as they will, or as a model of how passages can begin to be deconstructed.

The developers explain the features of rewordify:

  • Work with all your documents in one convenient place
  • Edit and delete your documents
  • Make any document public, so anyone can find it from the search box
  • Make any document link-only, so people need a link to view it
  • Make any document private, so people need a password to view it
  • Save vocabulary lists
  • Keep track of what words you’ve learned, are learning, and want to learn, and more!

A Reading Comprehension Tool To Simplify Text

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