< Back

Bringing Reading & Fun Together in the Classroom



Jessee Macklin, Emma Steward, Alexis Yeager

Reading in the 21st century

Recent studies have shown that 73% of high schoolers use social media; often times this can even be seen inside the classroom (Jackson). Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube and other popular social media websites are accessed through computers, phones, and other technological devices by teenagers every day. Most teachers have probably witnessed their students trying to hide their phones or iPods in their laps or between books while surfing various websites during class. In a typical 8 hour school day teenagers are bound to hop on the web at least a time or two.

Constantly being ‘in-the-know’ can be a little too tempting for students sometimes. But the fact is that students spend time on social media doing exactly what teachers try to get them to do in their classes: read! Posts, statuses, blogs, articles, comments, links, notifications, photo captions - reading is weaved into almost every aspect of any social networking website. For the majority of teenagers and high schoolers in America this is precisely what reading looks like in the 21st century.

Now that this idea (as negative as it might seem) is formally acknowledged, the next step is thinking about how teachers can utilize social media and the Internet as a learning tools in their classrooms. If students would rather surf the Internet than flip through the pages of the class textbook then there are times when we teachers should embrace that! Teachers can include activities in their classroom that disguise reading as explorations of social media.

Boring book reports are a thing of the past. In order to keep the fun factor in the classroom teachers can provide means for working social media into writing about books. “Book Trailers” can be used as a way to excite students for reading books. Students spend time with Windows Movie Maker or iMovie to create a mini “trailer” equipped with sound, text, picture, or video for a book they have recently read. This type of project can be assigned after reading a class text or as a way for students to introduce a favorite books to their peers. Either way students are utilizing the Internet and social media to talk about the books they are reading. This is also a way to spread interest among a class full of adolescents and expose them to titles or genres they might not have otherwise heard before.

Reading for Pleasure: Can reading be fun?

Ask any high school student these days if they enjoy reading and if they do the reading that is assigned in class, and more often than not the answer that is received will be a resounding no. So why do student’s not like reading? How can we, as (future) educators, change these negative feelings when it comes to reading?

There are many reasons why student’s and adolescents in general have an aversion to reading, and those can range anywhere from learning disabilities, to a band experience, to just never really seeing the point in spending their time reading. In a discussion that was had in our Teaching Reading class, a lot of the students mentioned that their aversion to reading started in middle school when a teacher butchered the teaching of a book, and just made in unenjoyable for their students. All it takes is one bad experience to ruin something forever, and reading is no exception to this rule. However! It can be salvaged!  In an article written by LuAnne Johnson titled 10 Reasons Why Nonreaders Don’t Read - and How to Change Their Minds which can be found here, Johnson brings up the top ten reasons why students don’t read and explaining them in depth before suggesting things to counter those reasons, and hopefully get children interested in reading.

As teachers, we can help by drawing positive, fun connections between the students and reading, and showing them that reading can be fun! There are a million and one activities that are floating around out there, most of them tried and perfected by other teachers. An example of some of these activities and how they can be used are found online on sites like tips-for-teachers.com which anyone can add too! An example of reading activity tips can be found here

The question of why student’s don’t read is an old one, and yet, there aren’t many records of teachers and other adults actually asking the students directly why the do not read. After searching online, I stumbled across this documented account of a teacher actually asking her students about their reading habits, and why they were the way they were. She did this via a video, and at the end the students explain what can be done to change their reading habits, the main one being that they wanted to be able to choose what they wanted to read.

How do we utilize students reading books of their own choosing in the classroom? Is it possible for students to master the standards when THEY choose the books? According to various studies, yes. At this point, students are conditioned to dislike a book before they read it simply because they are being essentially forced to read it. There is no dispute that famous novels are famous for a reason, but when students are forced to read things it creates an instant riff in their sense of ownership over the book. This leads them to lean more towards things like cliff notes and sparknotes, instead of actually trying to read the book to see if they’d enjoy it. Certain pieces can be hard to nix-- you can’t really teach students about Elizabethan times with anything besides Shakespeare-- but letting students learn about a genre that canonical books are usually employed for doesn’t necessarily have to be a whole class novel experience. Gay Ivey, a professor of reading education at James Madison, is a firm proponent of letting students choose with reckless abandonment what they want to read.

“For the past three years, Dr. Ivey has been involved with a project at a Virginia school in which 300 Grade 8 English students were allowed full choice over their reading with few strings or work attached, other than classroom discussions about shared themes and small group conversations if several students had read the same book. The goal was to get every student engaged in reading - the kind that you do in your own free time. "It's [about]the experience we have all had as adults when we forget to eat or go to the restroom because we are so into what we are reading," Dr. Ivey says. "And that so rarely happens in school, and it certainly hardly ever happens with the whole-class-assigned novel."

The results, she says, have been overwhelming. "We couldn't keep up with the need for books," she says. Even in classes with struggling readers, students read an average of 42 books over the course of the school years, some as many as 100. And even with their options open, students didn't stick with Twilight and Gossip Girl series for long - as their appetite for reading grew, so did their interest in more challenging reads, coming to class for example to debate the ending of Walking on Glass by science fiction writer Iain Banks.

There's a perception, Dr. Ivey says, that "when you give choices, they will choose something that's not good for them. But that is not the case at all. We wouldn't have kept kids from reading Captain Underpants. But quite frankly even our least experienced readers didn't choose books like that."

Instead, she argues, students learned a more important lesson. "Sometimes really hard thinking can be pleasurable - that's what our kids experience. Pleasure doesn't have to be a no-brainer."

Dr. Ivey argues that schools would do well to abandon the whole class novel, which, she says, despite new styles of teaching literacy still remains a common approach in North American schools. And to those who argue in favour of a common base of knowledge through class-assigned novels, she scoffs: "The experience of being assigned a book is extremely common. Having knowledge of [that book]is rare."

This is backed up by authors like Donalyn Miller in her book, The Book Whisperer. She mirrors this idea and advocates that when you let students read by choice, they tend to become voracious readers and exercise their passion for reading in the classroom. She says that even reluctant readers are able to find a niche they love, and then a knowledgeable teacher can adapt to make sure that the in class books fit a genre.

If teachers are hesitant about abandoning the whole class novel completely, they can consider the idea of doing class set novels. This is expounded upon in articles such as “Reconsidering the Whole Class Novel.” 

Some book set ideas from the website:

  • Problems in school:Stargirl (Spinelli, 2000), Leaving Fletchville (Schmidt, 2008), Schooled (Korman, 2007), The 6th Grade Nickname Game (Korman, 1998), and Loser (Spinelli, 2002

  • Irish Famine: Under the Hawthorn Tree (Conlon-McKenna, 1990) and Nory Ryan's Song (Giff, 2000), and three novels by Canadian authors, Bridget's Black '47 (Perkyns, 2009), The Grave (Heneghan, 2000), and the most recent Governor General's Award-winner, Greener Grass (Pignat, 2008).

If teachers are concerned about whether students will actually read, they can include framed silent reading time in the beginning of class to guarantee not only that students are reading, but that they are transitioned from wherever they came from into the mentality that it is time to be a participant in class.

Finally, teachers can utilize websites like Figment.com for students. Figment, an online community, lets students find other readers with similar interest, peruse book choices, participate in forums and give their own opinion on books.

Works Cited-

Jackson, Camille. "Your Students Love Social Media ... and So Can You." Teaching Tolerance. N.p., 2011. Web. 8 May 2013.

Miller, Donalyn, and Jeff Anderson. The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

Creative Commons Licence
<p>I love this section of the project from last year. I love that it addresses the need for our students to be reading outside the canon. I firmly believe that reading for fun is something that we should continually be challenging our students to do and if we can incorporate those "fun" books into what we are teaching that is even better!</p>
<p>You said we need to encourage students to be doing outside reading. That is all fine and dandy until one of the students can't afford to buy new, fun, outside reading books. Or maybe the student can't get to the library or there is no library near them to begin with. As teachers we should encourage our students to read for fun outside of the classroom, but we also need to educate them with ways to obtain those reading materials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On a different note, we need to teach our students HOW to comprehend so they get the most out of reading. Sure, most students can read the words on the page, but do they know what those words are saying? How are they able to take that reading and apply it to their lives and others lives around them. It is a tricky situation, for sure. Is there a way to overcome it?</p>
<p>Encouraging outside reading remains "fine and dandy" even if there is a student with the particular case that you described. Although a student may be outside the means of buying a new hardcpver book everyday, that doesn't not mean that we should tread lightly within this important aspect of reading. A small discussion on how to get to a library, or how to find a book (or short stories, poems, etc) online could be helpful, but as teachers i believe that our time would be spent more valuably fostering th idea that reading is fun, and can be an enjoyable and meaningful passtime.&nbsp;</p>
<p>All of the comments regarding this particular post provide significant insight into the topic of instilling the importance of outside reading to our students. Encouraging students to read and demonstrating how reading is and can be fun can only go so far. The lack of resources available for teachers and students has caused a significant decrease in the ability to create outlets for students unable to acquire outside reading texts. Sure there are libraries, but many students do not have the means to get to one. School times are so specific that if students have to ride the bus, there is little opportunity to attend the school library. If funds are an issue, acquiring their own copy of books can be a challenge. Aside from teachers creating their own library with their own funding, the issue needs to be addressed so students can achieve their full reading potential with the aid of outside resources. I really enjoyed this section of the project, and the comments lent additional insight into this current issue with the reading and literacy future of adolescents.</p>
<p>I think that outside reading plays a significant role in postively shaping the outlook of the youth towards reading. &nbsp;In the education system today, it is evident that most of the curriculum is taught for breadth and not depth. &nbsp;Young students are not taught to read for enjoyment, but instead read the mandated literature in order to obtain just enough information to pass a multiple choice state wide exam. &nbsp;By allowing students to choose what they read, whether it be the newspaper, a novel, or a copy of ESPN The Magazine, I believe that teachers are creating a positive experience associated with reading because students would be interested in their reading material. &nbsp;It is the accumulation of these positive experiences, in my opinion, that will lead students to become avid readers as adults.</p>
<p>I love this idea of reading for fun with unlimited student choice, but on the other hand, I understand the importance of group reading and group discussions. I guess I have a hard time finding the balance between the two. I do see the ways in which unlimited choice will peak the interest of all students. But I also see how it does little to prepare a student for a literature class in college, which is based on reading assigned book lists. I have seen examples of class books that were taught well and which engaged all the students in one book, and I’ve also seen good examples of when a teacher has allowed choice in student reading. I believe both are important, and that one shouldn’t be favored or neglected for the other, as I find with almost everything in teaching. Something I might implement in my own classroom is to do a class book one unit, and the next book give free choice, and switch off throughout the semester, to allow for differentiation for those students that do well with structure in English and for those who do well with more independence. Another way I have seen it done well is to have students select a book from a list, to allow for class collaboration on similar topics while still allowing students freedom to chose their own reading. I don’t think this topic is so simple that we can say class-wide books are bad and needs to be abandoned in favor of unlimited student choice, but both need to be fostered to teach the whole student.&nbsp;</p>
<p>This article brought up many interesting points that I had never thought about. I like the idea of students reading anything that interests them for class because it makes them passionate about reading. On the other hand, classroom structure would be completely altered, though that could turn out to be a positive. I think grouping students together to discuss books around genres would be effective. I am wary that students would miss out on important lessons books teach and on different perspectives books can offer. Each book for an English class is given careful consideration and picked for very important reasons but the teacher does not always relate the books to real world problems so students do not always care about the books. Students tend to pick one genre or style of lnaguage that is their favorite and most of what they read so students could potetially lack getting different perspectives.&nbsp;</p> <p>I now wonder what the word texts should actually include now. If texts now includes video and music, what does that mean for English classes in the future? English classes have always been based on reading and writing but now so many other medias could be included in that and I believe should be. I like the idea of a book review being made into a trailer. Technology is now in the classrooms and teaching could become more interesting for students using the new technology effectively. Creating a song about a novel that could be recorded on the computer then the students creating a music video based off the lyrics and novel. This proves if students have really read the novel and now understand the novel on a deeper level by analyzing the book to create the lyrics.&nbsp;</p> <p>Using social media sites in new ways like creating classroom pages or facebook pages for characters from novels is an effective way to get student attention. Creating dating profiles for characters from novels is another creative way to analyze a character. New technologies have changed the classroom forever and will continue to, so teachers must adapt to the changing times.&nbsp;</p>
<p>I found this article to be very interesting and insightful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>FIrst of all, I really like that this article brings texting, social media, browsing the web, and more into the broad scope of reading.&nbsp; It is very interesting that technology and new resources that are often frowned upon in the education system all circulate around reading.&nbsp; I've never really thought of texting as a part of reading and writing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another intersting aspect of the article is the issue related to students not enjoying reading.&nbsp; From personal experience, I know that most students/young adults do not find reading enjoyable.&nbsp; As bothersome as this is, it is because of school.&nbsp; Since students do not usually have a choice in what they read, they only think of it as another assignment.&nbsp; Also, because most students are so busy reading required texts for school they often don't have time to read leisurely.</p> <p>This problem doesn't have an easy solution, but I think it's key that students have some sort of say in what they read.&nbsp; Book lists/options should be available in every classroom.&nbsp; </p>
<p>I think that the points made in this article are very true. When I was in middle school through high school, I hated being forced to read a book and then do boring projects or book reports. It did not help inspire me to read on my own because I was tired of reading after forcing my brain to read through something I didn't like. I think if teachers let students pick what they want to read it will encourage them to seek more free reading options for when they aren't in school. I was never very good at finding books to read on my own, and what would be good to read and what wouldn't be. If I had teachers encouraging me to find my own reading material or pick out books, I might have had a different experience. I also like the idea of using social media in the classroom. This world is developing to a point where social media is everywhere. If you embrace it in your classroom then both the teacher and the students can have fun exploring ways to encorporate it.</p>