Reading as a Three-Dimensional, Holographic, Virtual Reality

I have always taught students about mind-pictures and the process of visualization, which have become routine in reading instruction in schools today. I created a phrase called the self-amusement park of the imagination where all the action of reading—changing words into images—takes place. I added another term, the mind’s magic reading theater, to set up an imaginary stage where kids can see the shows. These frameworks, along with the fundamental skills for learning and learning how to learn, make the movie experiences become amazing performances. Children begin to appreciate viewing reading’s visual delights with the inner eye on an imaginary TV screen in the mind, the words narrated by a silent, inner reading voice, and , of course, the silent sounds of words heard by an imaginary inner ear. Isn’t this the magic of reading?

I think reading magic creates the greatest shows on Earth. However, the brilliant inner worlds have lost their luster to the dazzling electro-techno worlds of computer/video game images. How can reading, with its little miracles of mind-pictures, compete with the surreal pictures seen on video game screens? How can a child’s imagination compare to the 3-D worlds they view with or without 3-D glasses? Why bother using your own imagination if imagination assaults the eyes with incredible images, and no great effort is required on the viewer’s part to see them?

The caption from a Bill Keane cartoon in “The Family Circus” captured my attention years ago: “TV puts pictures in your eyes but books put pictures right inside your MIND!” I believed this was one answer to motivating reading from the inside out—and it was, from the Seventies to the Nineties. But now I am thinking about ways to crank up the process to inspire many adolescent readers by connecting the techno-world with reading.

You can re-invent and re-vitalize young people’s reading lives by modeling how the inner processes of reading create three-dimensional, holographic, virtual realities inside the mind’s magic reading theater by taking them on trips through the twilight zones of writers’ infinite worlds. Isn’t this reading magic, that is, when a reader’s imagination is hooked up and on to a writer’s imagination? Isn’t the hypnotic, telepathic communication also magical?

Demonstrate the magic reading theater as a window into deeper reading worlds. Describe it as a make-believe television screen in the mind where stories, literature, poetry, dramas, comedies, fantasies, documentaries, news reels, history, math, science, and animated cartoons take place.

Let children re-create their inner reading universes. Reading is not only about speed, fluency, mechanics, and testing, but “stopping by woods on a snowy evening,” and to see, think, imagine, experience, and reflect on words, sentences, and paragraphs, to create, ideally, a virtual reality of what they read. Help kids become the avatars in whatever they read, be it fiction or nonfiction.

Wikipedia definition of avatar: “In computing, an avatar is the graphical representation of the user or the user’s alter ego or character. It may take either a three-dimensional form, as in games or virtual worlds, or a two-dimensional form as an icon in Internet forums and other online communities.”

Give adolescents the skills, the toolbox, to discover their own reading creativity and original creations, the power and magic of words, the art of reading, and they will scream for joy inside
themselves. During those times they will not miss the electro-techno world. In my approach experiencing, feeling, meaning, and magic become motivation, the new reading test score.

Picture this passage through your 3-D inner eye glasses: One winter morning I photographed the sunrise through my living room window. A strange picture was created because ice covered the window. Everything I looked at became soft and fuzzy on the lightly frosted glass. The sun lost its roundness. It became blurry and wobbled along the window. I watched the sun’s rays paint the morning sky yellow, while the light coming toward me sparkled in gold. As I watched, I saw different bands of color move across the window, one on top of the other. There were yellow waves on the foggy glass, followed below by uneven ribbons of pink, red, orange, and , at the bottom, blue and purple. And then I saw the sun soaring high in the blue and yellow sky over the bands of colors. I photographed the picture with my mind. Snap! Snap! Snap!

A virtual reality seen through my inner eye 3-D glasses: I am the avatar who lives inside the scene. I am walking in my living room. It’s early, gray, and cold. I’m out of it, still trying to get up, feeling slightly wiped out from my own winter morning weariness. My eyes see a freaky sight: an ice-covered window sending a big chill through me. The outside world becomes soft and fuzzy through the frosted glass; I am getting another shot of chilly feelings of winter…I look closely at the glass. The sun morphed into a blur, a blotch on the window, connecting with my spaced-out mind, where nothing seemed real. My vision begins to intensify. I concentrate on the sun’s rays; they hypnotize me as they flash like gold through the frosted panes. I am illuminated, warming up a little, leaving the early morning’s cold behind me, starting to focus, seeing things more clearly, saying good-bye to that misty morning mind, and watching the bigger picture show, the reflected colors of the rainbow along the white walls of the living room. They seem to be moving along in waves and the colors are getting inside my head, my body, feeling good immersing myself in the flowing Technicolor dream-like world. I see sun and blue sky over waves of color, a good-vibe world, much sweeter than before, now feeling myself lifting out of this fogginess into a clear head, and then I shot the picture with my mind’s eye, developed it in my imagination, and stored it safely in my memory bank for future use.

Here are the directions for a class assignment:

• Read the “picture this” paragraph twice. Pretend you are the photographer, the main character, or the avatar in this passage. Get inside the person’s head and look out of his/her eyes. Look at the scene in your mind and imagination. Got it?
• Draw the picture you are looking at and photographing. Use crayons and/or markers.
• Brainstorm titles for your picture.
• Write a paragraph to describe what you were seeing, photographing, and experiencing.

Reflection Questions:

• Did becoming the photographer, main character, or avatar in the story, help you understand and enjoy the passage more? How did it help you? Explain.
• What feelings did you experience as you visualized the paragraph? Name the feelings and the reasons behind them.
• As you became the avatar in the passage and watched the early winter morning sunrise, what were you thinking as you looked out the window? What thoughts were going through your mind and imagination? List them.
• As the avatar, what parts of the passage seemed three-dimensional, appeared real or life-like, and became a virtual reality to you. Describe this experience. What happened inside your mind and imagination?
• What part(s) of your reading experience seemed magical or like magic to you? Why?
• As the avatar, did you experience anything else not written about in the passage? If so, describe what happened.

And to finish my blog-post lesson, think about these quotations for a minute to see if they might change your ideas about how reading is taught to our kids:

• “It is important to remember that we all have magic inside us.” (Kathleen Rowling)
• “A piece of writing is like a piece of magic. You create something out of nothing.” (Susanna Clark)
• “In a world full of audio-visual marvels, may words matter to you and be full of magic.” (Godfrey Smith)
• “The power of Thought, the magic of the Mind!” (Lord Byron)
• “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” (Stephen King)
• “Imagination is the true magic carpet.” (Norman Vincent Peale)

Check out these people, articles and web sites for further information about virtual reading: “The Magic of Literacy & The Spell of the Sensuous” (2011) is an interview with Dr. David Abram who discusses topics such as “Reading is Like Magic,” “How Reading Affects Us,” “Self-Talk,” “The Magic Spell of Writing,” “Animism—Nature Speaks,” “Interiority,” and “The Child.” “Want to Explore Virtual Reality? Try Reading a Book” (2009) is an article about Dr. Jeff Zacks, associate professor of psychology at Washington State University in St. Louis, who discusses “his new study exploring what happens in the brain when we read a book.” “Readers Build Vivid Mental Simulations of Narrative Situations” (2009) is a more detailed piece about the previous Zacks’ article on reading as a virtual reality. “Fiction: The original virtual reality” (2009) is yet another article found on Read Street, A blog for a community of readers, in Baltimore and beyond. It is also about the virtual worlds triggered in the reading process in connection with the work of Dr. Zacks. Motivating Teen and Preteen Readers: How Teachers and Parents Can Lead the Way by Jeffrey Pflaum (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011)

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