There is an acronym around the Internet: TL;DR. It stands for “Too Long; Didn’t Read” or “Too Lazy; Didn’t Read.” One version, of course, blames the author or source of the reading assignment for violating the reader’s (student’s) standards of how much they reasonably should expect to read, while the other accepts blame for simply not being willing to put forth the effort required.
You would be surprised at what is considered too long these days. TL;DRs can appear after a chunky paragraph.
This generation’s always on, constantly shifting world is finally affecting the world of reading. Not only may works be too long and laborious for today’s students, but also they feel empowered enough to disregard such works because of that length. This presents an interesting problem for educators.
The curriculum connection
Once you reach secondary school, most courses’ reading material may be out of the digestible range of today’s reader. Students in language arts are starting to read novels. Math and science units are multiple pages in the common textbook. And the further a student gets into history, the more in-depth their books become.
Does this need to read only summaries mean that the reading skills of students are falling behind? Are they intimidated by longer works? Would it be more effective to give them readings of a more palatable size?
What does this all mean?
First, we have to remember that writing, and by extension reading, goes through cycles and fads the same as any other art form. In the time of Dickens, books were released one chapter at a time, rather than in a volume. Only the wealthy could afford chapter novels collected together into one book. The rest did their reading through magazines, pamphlets, and newspapers. Think of it as the serialized fan fiction many teens consume today online.
Second, today’s student is busier than previous generations. They simply have less time to spend on any one pursuit because they tend to have so many. So they’ve decided to save as much time as they can.
Speaking of which, reports and journal articles for busy executives and doctors also have their own version of TL;DR in the form of executive summaries and abstracts of journal articles. They have been standard in publishing such works for decades. They give the reader an opportunity to decide to invest more time in reading the whole work.
It’s just a fact of our modern world that attention spans are shrinking. You can either assign readings that hopefully stem the tide of TL;DR or start considering shorter works, allow them to summarize their reading for other students (a valuable academic skill), or mix in more of the media that they can’t seem to get enough of: video.
The Next Level
If you have a student with a shorter attention span, have you come up with strategies? How is it working? Educate us in the comments below.