Competent Reading for the 21st Century: Global Trends through a Bulgarian Lens

Abstract: The paper examines the alarming observation that reading as we know it is in trouble, in Bulgaria and also on a global scale. Insisting on the premise that reading enables all other learning, thus ensuring the creation of added economic and social value, and finally, a good quality of life for everyone, it argues that this problem must be addressed urgently. Furthermore, it outlines, albeit in broad strokes, some of the major factors which arguably contribute to this effect. It looks for explanations in recent research in cognitive studies: the degree to which reader response relies on stories and the human mind’s automatic preference for fast to critical thinking, as well as in research on how the information environment has been changing over the last decades in terms of globalization, multimodalization, advertising and propaganda, information overload, data, algorithms, artificial intelligence, and hypertargeting. Combining these findings, the paper proposes that the trouble with reading we are facing at the moment is a problem of mismatch between the exigencies of the 21st century and the current philosophy and practice of reading pedagogy. Importantly, this means that the trouble with reading we observe at various levels is a systemic problem which requires a systemic solution. The paper then goes on to survey the evolution of the pedagogical understanding of reading from a conditioned behaviour to a natural process, from reading to literacy, from literacy to literacies, transliteracy, multiliteracies, and finally – to competence frameworks. Next, it considers how the much broader and more complex notion of reading competence can be implemented in practice and what systemic changes are needed for achieving this objective. In order to be able to get into closer detail, the following discussion is based on the reality of reading pedagogy in Bulgaria. The paper reflects on the benefits of moving from the current practice of controlling content to guaranteeing the development of competences across disciplines and learning environments. It also considers what changes ought to be made to the currently used assessment methods as well as to the philosophy and practice of reading pedagogy. It ends with a final comment on the importance of enhanced coordination between educational policy and other policy areas in order to create a favourable learning environment beyond the classroom as well.

Keywords: reading, reading deficits, 21st century needs, reader-response, cognitive studies, experimental psychology, globalization, multimodalization, advertising and propaganda, information overload, data, algorithms, artificial intelligence, hypertargeting, literacies, competences, assessment, reading pedagogy, engagement, flow, gamification, project-based reading

Georgi Niagolov teaches English Medieval and Renaissance literature at the Department of English and American Studies at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, where he defended his doctoral dissertation on Shakespeare’s wordplay. He works for equal access to high-quality education – measured in terms of high employability as well as high social and personal value. During the last 10 years he has been striving to kindle in his students a sense of meaning and pleasure derived from careful reading. He has been experimenting with different pedagogies and thinking about how to make learning better and more useful.

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Georgi Niagolov – Competent Reading for the 21st  Century (pdf)

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