The teenager today is a different kind of reader and learner; the way teens read today is exciting and offers many opportunities to enhance education and help make reading more efficient. It has always been important to instill and maintain a love of reading within the youngest segments of our society. Reading establishes the ability to understand language, it is an important part of education, and it is important in order to help people become productive citizens. It is also important is to make sure young people are efficient, careful, and thoughtful readers. Because an efficient reader “is more concerned about understanding what he reads than he is in how quickly he reads it.” Another perk to helping a young person become an efficient reader is creating students who understand, remember, and put to use the material that has been read (Sebranek 203). So what are teens today reading and are they learning with the most efficiency? Are schools connected and understanding of the reading interests of adolescents? Should schools care about teens’ reading interests or is traditional print reading the best avenue to instruct? These are interesting questions to answer and schools should be concerned about teen reading trends because, “reading is developmental and interest based; and the reading young adult is a curious monster to tame” (Gagatiga).
In 1999 the International Reading Association made a position statement about the crises in teen literacy. Since then there has been an increased interest in ensuring that adolescents are well represented in the literary market (Koss 563). Much of this interest has been geared toward leisure reading which is defined as the ability of the reader to choose material and read when and where he chooses. Sometimes the literature chosen by the teen produces a learning opportunity, and sometimes material is read for the pure pleasure of the experience (Moyer). Unfortunately, the types of literature most adolescents prefer to read is discouraged or frowned upon in school settings. This is unfortunate because there is a cultural element when teens read (Alvermann). The kinds of literature young adults choose can influence the types of friends they hang out with as well as how they view themselves (Allen 266). Large book chains such as Borders have figured out how to tap into current teen reading craze. Many of these stores have successfully conducted midnight release book parties (Young), validating teens and their interests, and in turn have gained respect from young readers.
Despite the most recent book crazes, such as Harry Potter and Twilight, adults have become increasingly alarmed by the reported decline in reading among teens. However, part of the teen literacy concern adults have might be based more on ignorance than on fact. Only recently have some educators and researchers recognized that for teens, literature is not confined to just print material. “Teens today may be reading just as much as teens in the past, but their ways and types of reading are so different from the older generations who create…polls and studies, that they are not accurately capturing the true levels of adolescent literacy leisure activities” (Moyer). In fact, today 94% of teens are reading in some fashion online (Groenke 38), and many find that reading on a computer or e-book to be very comfortable. When comparing two previous generations to the teens of today it was found that 78% of the generation who were teens a little over a decade ago still prefer print over digital. However, 90% of Gen X’ers who were born between 1960 and 1975 favor print. Women across all ages reported a preference for print over digital (Moyer). This preference to print probably plays a major role in the types of literature provided in school settings, how lessons are taught, and whether teens remain engaged learners.
In fact, the types of literature teens appear to be interested in pursuing are considered multilayered. Teens are incredibly social and are interested in staying in contact with friends through text messaging, WebTV, e-mail, chat rooms, online role-playing games, developing Internet homepages, surfing Web sites (Chandler-Olcott), and participating in social networking. Many teens also enjoy reading print magazines and books relative to their interests. Adolescents are also open to the idea of joining library media clubs as long as they have the option of communicating digitally with their friends. Even if those friends are in the same room sitting side by side (Alvermann 319-321).
This new trend in young adult literature has been coined as the “Convergence Culture” by Jenkins a leading cultural theorist, who has been following the use of multiple literacies in teen reading. “Convergence Culture” simply means that reading and “content flows across multiple media platforms, multiple industries (e.g. music, film) cooperat(ing) with each other, and media consumers will go almost anywhere in search of the kind of entertainment experiences they want.” One example of this new trend is the digi-novel (Groenke 38-39) another example is the fanfic (Chandler-Olcott).
The digi-novel is the combining of print and digital medias to create a whole new reading experience. It is a print book and it is an online interactive reading medium as well. In order to unlock clues about the story, the reader must locate clues within the book and go online to use those clues to further understand the storyline. The book is difficult to understand without the online companion Web site, and the site online is virtually meaningless without the printed text of the story. Author Patrick Carmen, of the Skeleton Creek series, commented that his books do not attempt to bridge the gap between print and digital literacy; instead, his goal is to erase that gap and combine both types of literacies. Another digi-novel, Amanda’s Project, provides an interactive online “Zine”, and other social networking devices to encourage readers to become involved in the story. Fans can even provide suggestions to the characters in the books about what they should do next. Teens who use the site understand that their suggestions may be used in an upcoming story (Groenke).
The other trend, fanfic, is based on the graphic novel craze that has become popular among many teens. This type of literature is usually created online and occasionally in print by adolescents who normally share their books only among peers. The books are based on dreams or inspired by interpretive readings of Manga type literature. The young authors usually include fan art and write using online chatting structure, abbreviations, and emoticons (Chandler-Olcott). Manga originated in Japan and one study found that Manga fans are indeed engaged readers. It was also discovered that readers who devoured the books also increased their reading levels and reading comprehension (Allen 278). Encouraging and incorporating fanfic as another option to learn in school and could be viewed as another step toward connecting literacy to the teens’ real world.
One public library in Portland has recognized the need to cater services to teens’ interest, instead of insisting that teens conform to the interests of adults. Justin Hoenke wrote on his blog, concerning the new Teen Library, that young adults should be allowed to explore every type of literature and stated, “don’t worry…they’re reading (on every sort of device be it book, phone, computer, ereader) (Hoenke). There are multiple literacies being introduced with technology and instructors would be wise to bring at least a few into the classroom to help teens understand how to navigate the multiple types of texts available to them (Koss 570-571). Educators and other adults should also be mindful that “books can be read using eyes, hands, and fingers…Reading should be a pleasure not a punishment, and there is joy, satisfaction, and achievement in encouraging any child to read independently” (Moyer).
However, traditionally, schools prefer print literature over digital. Some say that only teaching the classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet helps prepare students for college (Groenke 42). Other educators refuse to introduce the use of popular Young Adult, YA, books because they feel that the books lack “literary merit” (Abeaman). These arguments might be valid, but if teens reading interests are not included they also are probably not engaged and they are not going to care to learn about the classics. Also, only emphasizing on the core subjects offered in print does not provide students with opportunities to connect multiple literacies, such as digital, which is the young adults’ preferred method of real world learning (Alvermann 312).
Another concern about current teen trends that has come up in discussions is the type of literature teens are reading today. Dystopia is literature with dark and dramatic story lines. It has become a popular element in teen literature. Maria Nikolajeva, director of Cambridge/Homerton Research and Training Center stated that “all readers’ brains are changed after they have read a book, but teenagers’ brains are especially perceptive and therefore vulnerable” (Strauss). This is due to the fact that “people both shape and are shaped by the various contexts they encounter, whether the context involves schools, recreation, (and) home life and so on.” However, for adolescents part of the appeal of the dystopia novel could be due to the youth-adult conflict which is something teens experience in real life. These books can provide young adults with opportunities to safely explore social issues by way of reading (Alvermann 311, 314).
The problem with discouraging dystopia and other literacies is that for some teens the attack on their reading interests only adds to the appeal of the material (Allen 265). This is true whether the perceived attack is on print or digital. The use of digital material is another concern discussed among educators and parents alike. For example, Lydia Breisheth posed an online question and a concern about a recent finding that teens spend 8 hours a day using and viewing media technology (Breisheth). The question she posed referred to a Kaiser Family Foundation study which also added that when multi-tasking was taken into account, teens spend on average 10 hours and 45 minutes a day using some form of technology (Hachman).
Perhaps the concern is more due to the fear that the digital divide between instructors and teens will become greater, or the gap between the poor and the advantaged in and out of school will widen with the curricular integration of current technologies and reading materials (Groenke 42). However, in 2005 the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 74% of teens already have access to the internet, and an even larger number have access to some form of digital media (Moyer). In which case, there already appears to be a rapidly spreading divide between the in-school and out-of-school technological literacy usage for teens, which probably will not disappear by ignoring the issue (Groenke 43). Instead it appears that by not integrating these technologies as well as YA books into the curriculum, opportunities already seem to be lost to use and provide guidance to help empower teens to participate in society (Alvermann 332). The danger from the lack of school to real life connectivity might be creating a larger and even wider digital and generational divide.
It is becoming imperative for the school library to meet the technological and reading needs of its students (Myers). In an attempt to understand the technological needs of youth, the National Education Association, NEA, found that heavy readers were more likely to also be heavy television and computer users. In addition, another study by the Audio Publishers Association found that heavy print readers were also more likely to be heavy audio listeners. A research study conducted by Kelly Chandler-Olcott and Donna Maher found that teens, while instant messaging, put a great deal of importance on language, social networking, and surveillance (Moyer). Chandler-Olcott and Miller also mentioned that using several types of media “such as visual, linguistic, and audio in one text, is a key concept in the Multiliteracies framework” (Chandler-Olcott). In other words, the integration of multiple reading opportunities such as print, audio, and digital within a single reading medium might be the key to connecting and helping teens become interested in learning in school.
Another reason to integrate digital is that it was found that online computer reading requires all the same elements of print reading, but also includes the more complex concepts of prior knowledge, inferential reasoning, and self regulated reading processes. Since more students today spend time reading nonlinear text on the computer, it might behoove the library media specialist, LMS, to meet the needs of the technologically savvy reader (Moyer). This is true whether the reading is for pleasure or for research.
David Loertscher, owner of Hi Willow Research and Publishing, “encourages the use of Web 2.0 technologies to get children writing, illustrating, publishing, and distributing works of original nonfiction to further boost their facility with informational texts.” Plus, he “encourages school librarians to (i)mmerse children and teens in nonfiction as you would in fiction” (Reviews-Professional).
One LMS from Gaithersburg High School stated that she had seen a declining interest in print nonfiction because of easy availability online (St. George). A few states, such as Michigan, are beginning to understand the importance, and are requiring schools to connect the curriculum to their students’ real world reading interests (Alvermann). However, there already some schools and public libraries that are voluntarily being proactive to bridge the technological and reading gap between adults and teens.
“It’s not that they are reading less; they’re reading in a different way,” President Kim Patton of the Young Adult Library Services Association stated when discussing teen usage of digital, YA, and graphic novel materials (St. George). One example of a proactive effort, which appears to benefit students is from the Kansas Goddard High School, Rachel Nally, LMS, applies for grants to purchase more graphic novels because Manga is very popular and helps increase her students reading abilities and interests. In the past two years the 740 Manga volumes in the library have circulated 14,817 times. Upon review of test assessments, Nally found that not one student who failed the Kansas Reading Assessment was a Manga reader (Nally). Perhaps this is because Manga and other types of graphic novels offer complex multimodality skills, a combination of text and illustrations, for the reader to decipher (Allen).
One only has to spend a small amount of time in the Internet message boards to see that there are other LMS and educators becoming aware that they need to be more flexible and “willing to use new kinds of texts in preparing adolescents to be strategic readers of diverse texts delivered in multiple and varied mediums” (Groenke). There has also been an increase in teen Web sites with teen created book reviews such as teenink.com and flamingnet.com (Bates).
The international social appeal of the internet might be another factor to examine in the reasoning behind teens’ attraction to using online booklists and sites. One such example is the Teen Reading Club, a Canadian teen site, which offers youth created reviews, books lists, and opportunities to connect with other readers (TeenReadingClub). Dianne McKenzie from the Australian International School of Hong Kong stated, “The better one can read the better one can learn” (McKenzie). This also indicates that reading concerns much like teen internet usage knows no national boundaries.
Unfortunately, it appears that many public sites are not school sponsored. Fortunately, a few schools are beginning to recognize the need to integrate technology with reading. Such as Pennsylvania’s Abington Senior High which includes student created book video trailers, similar to movie trailers, in the school’s library catalog (Alisa’s). Other schools utilize YouTube to present book trailers and promote student reading (Japhne8788). Each student produced video is created from the student’s point of view, usually connecting the book to the student’s real world.
Then there is the digital storytelling method being used in some schools. Digital stories are “short, personal multimedia tales told from the heart. …(T)hese stories can be created by people everywhere, on any subject, and shared electronically all over the world” (Educational). It provides a unique opportunity for students to personally connect with the books they read by creating videos about literature in relation to their own lives. One high school class with a 24% reading proficiency in Florida increased reading comprehension on the reading assessment to 76% after implementing digital storytelling. These students not only read printed and digital text, but they also learned how to program. When interviewed, one student commented that he enjoyed working with his classmates and felt that digital storytelling was better than just reading (Staleymcnatt).
Another educator, Scott Hertzog, uses podcasting techniques to interview students about the books they choose to read. The interesting aspect of these book talks is that even though Hertzog is ultimately in control of the interview, he allows the students to lead the conversation. Empowering both reluctant and engaged readers alike to explore books and relate the stories to their own lives (Hertzog).
If jumping into technology and connecting it to reading seems intimidating, nondigital book talks of the student’s choice of reading material, such as the one Hertzog offers, could be implemented in the curriculum (Brisco).
Libraries could also examine the display tactic used by stores which has helped create and popularize the mega bookstores. This type of display tactic appears to be effective whether the reader is a teen or a teacher. McKenzie, Australia International School, found that circulation in her library increased by 90% when she started store displaying books (Brisco).
Schools also shouldn’t forget to include high interest reading materials such as Guitar Player, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and other culturally geared magazines. Displaying magazines near comfortable reading areas provides a welcome feeling for many teens (Emerick).
Nor should libraries forget to include and encourage newspaper literacy, because teens who do not read newspapers become adults who will not read newspapers. Perhaps it would be beneficial to display and encourage teens to read the sections that interest them the most which include the comics, sports, entertainment, and horoscopes with the hope that they will read other sections as they become mature readers (Pardun).
Another option to connect with teens is to follow the example of a successfully school modified version of ALA’s “READ” poster display. Instead of displaying celebrity faces, the schools use student, instructor, and well known community faces to created “READ” posters. These programs have helped increase interest and excitement in those libraries (Copps).
However, the real answer to connecting with teens and their reading interests might really be very simple. Encourage students to refer books, magazines, and even where to purchase materials. Adolescents who are encouraged to contribute feel acknowledged (Uthoff). Of course, book collections and digital materials should support the curriculum while providing for a wide range of interests (Myers). Also, opportunities need to be provided to meet the needs of cultural differences, special needs, gifted students, social issues, and high interest topics (Waugh). Many adolescents can contribute to their own education if adults would provide them with the opportunity. The bottom line is that respect for young adult interests is important. As one LMS, Jean Hatfield stated, “If teens don’t feel welcome when they come in the door, they aren’t going to come no matter what you do. If they feel harassed, watched, talked down to, or ignored, they will not come back” (Uthoff).
This means that adults need to find and be open to teens’ interests, even if those interests do not always appear to be directly related to the act of reading. Including technology doesn’t mean traditional reading has to be left behind. Teens do want to read and there are many reasons why they want to read. As in the case of a music video, “Readings a Good Time” produced by a group of teens in Dallas/Ft. Worth, one young lady sang about the benefits of reading and also stated, “When I’m not okay, I try to forget about it. Grab a book and let it out” (NTRBOYZ).
Educators should not ignore the multiple literacy interests of teens. Reading is the key to having the ability to learn, understand, and continue life long learning habits. With 69% of teens not graduating high school in America, it is imperative to find new ways to connect and help foster a love of reading (Staleymcnatt). “If people aren’t paying attention to older kids, they don’t develop reading skills much beyond the sixth-grade level” (Myers). Ignoring teens’ reading interests might only lead to less efficient readers, expand the digital divide, and cause young adults to be less interested in the traditional reading. Adolescents may not always appear to be reading in the traditional fashion, but they are reading, they are engaged, and they are interested in learning. This is true whether that act of reading and learning is by way of print or digital.
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