Our society has become obsessed with the "chunk of information." Chunking has its place. Without chunking, I wouldn't remember my phone number, my social security number, or how to spell the word "restaurant." Chunking is a great strategy for emerging readers who are trying to make sense of how all those letters form bigger words.
I sometimes feel like a lot of people now prefer chunk over substance. I'm not being a hypocrite here. One of those people is me. Look, if you can send me a text instead of calling me, please do. "Just the facts, ma'am." What day of the week does a T.V. show that I like come on? Who knows, I watch it in chunks of three episodes at a time (or maybe a whole season without leaving my bed except to find cookies, don't judge me) because I don't want to wait until the next episode. Like Veruca Salt would say "I want it now!"
Also, I am a magazine addict. There, I said it. I've gotten a handle on it though because I don't buy them anymore. I will gladly take them if they're donated. I get allergy shots every week and I have to sit for 30 minutes so I read theirs for free. Or, and I might be the ONLY person in America who does this, I look for the longest line at the grocery store and binge as much gossip as possible while I wait. Here is what I have noticed. In many of these publications (read: not highbrow, don't judge me) the articles are getting shorter and shorter. Often, it is a lot of pictures with a highlighted box of information. One "chunk," if you will. I find this alarming.
Look at any news channel. Scrolling along the bottom of the screen are chunks of information. I have seen people at the gym (I mean, I go a few times a year, whatever, don't judge me) who watch the news channel intently, without sound, just to read the chunks.
We have reached an amazing time in our society when one can very easily become over saturated, overstimulated, and overwhelmed with information. I think it is natural for it to be chunked, mostly for time management. However, just because you decoded the word with chunking doesn't mean you don't keep reading. That's where I become concerned.
I had the privilege to present and work with a group of new teachers today and one part of our discussion focused on some great read alouds. Two books that I love and have read to my students are "Where the Red Fern Grows," and "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh." Both of these books are long. Both of them are challenging reads for 5th graders and contain a lot of mature discussion points and top notch vocabulary. However, part of what my kids have loved about these novels is how invested they become in the story. The intricate details that move the action and intrigue and delight the reader/listeners is what they crave. And the accomplishment that they feel at the end is akin to an adventurer who now has a unique story to share. I want to instill that passion in them because I know that they are going into a world where the chunk has become acceptable and, perhaps, even normal.
I realized as I was talking to the newbies today that I am a passionate teacher but at the heart of my instruction is the love of reading. Reading ability carries over into math ability and content areas. And to become better readers they must practice that craft and read, read, read. Not chunks, but whole books that will challenge them, engage them, and push them on a path of self-discovery. (Granted, they read it in chunks but the chunks go together to make a whole, you follow?)
I don't think chunks of information are all bad. However, are they helping me grow as a reader or just allowing me to move on and not challenge myself, exercise my inquiry, or explore new content, ideas, or characters.
For my kids and for every reader, I hope that you ensure that your reading has substance sometimes. Find a balance. Model it. And, occasionally, you can still get chunky.