Is any reading good reading? Or is it dumbing down the student?

Is any reading good reading?

BOOKWORM: Teachers are using different reading materials to encourage young people to read.

BOOKWORM: Teachers are using different reading materials to encourage young people to read.

Here’s some news that will ease the minds of parents of even the most reluctant readers.

If your child refuses to pick up a book, don’t despair. Teachers and parents are increasingly using comic books, magazines, TV, websites and even video games and text messages to nurture a love of words in children.

The message is simple: any reading is good reading, said Kathy Ferrari, a primary school teacher and North Sydney branch president of the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association.

“I very much believe that a wide range of material is best and anything that gets kids reading is fantastic,” she said.

Comic books and their sophisticated cousin, graphic novels, are now regularly being deployed in classrooms. No longer seen as shallow, they are valued as a way to engage children and teach another form of visual literacy. They are also an introduction to the classics, with many great works of literature, including those by Shakespeare, now published as comics.

“It’s wonderful to do one in a classroom, to do the comparisons of the way different texts are published,” Ferrari said.

She also embraces magazines as a great tool, with their variety of topics and mix of fiction and non-fiction, images and words. “I would never recommend a sole diet of that but if that’s all they are reading, it’s better than nothing.”

Karen Brooks, an author and associate professor of media studies at Southern Cross University, said the rapid spread of technology should not be seen as the enemy of literacy.

“It [technology] is a gift,” she said. “Never before have we had so much at our fingertips to both educate and challenge our difficult readers but also our more sophisticated readers.”

The problem is those reluctant readers. Just as there will always be children who devour Austen and Tolkien from an early age, there will always be a group who struggle with books, and they are predominantly young boys.

Literacy testing reveals the divide. A University of Canberra report, Boys, Blokes and Books, cites 2009 NAPLAN results: 89.6 per cent of year 5 boys performed at or above the national minimum standard compared with 93.9 per cent of girls at the same age. In year 7, the gap between girls and boys was 6.4 per cent.

One issue is the relevance of classroom texts for boys who prefer biographies to fiction, fantasy to poetry.

For their paper What Do Australian Boys Think About Reading?, University of Sydney researchers Maxine Broughton and Jacqueline Manuel interviewed 30 boys from a NSW high school. They found teachers failed to engage the students by not basing reading on the boys’ preferred topics and genres.

Brooks says this is where technology comes in. Non-readers might start with text messages to familiarise themselves with the written word, read websites about their favourite TV shows or write a short review of a video game.

“It forms a bridge and it allows them to cross that bridge,” she said. “As they learn the wonder and the surprises and joys of words, then you transition them into books.”

Leonie Tyle is exploring the potential of e-readers, such as the iPad, after 25 years as a librarian and children’s publisher. She says e-books up the interactive factor, with moving and talking characters, while still offering the crucial parent-child experience. They can also be used by students to share thoughts on books with real classmates, or virtual ones further afield.

“I think this generation is so attuned to games, television, computers, social networking … kids who aren’t readers are more likely to pick up an e-reader and read a book,” Tyle said.

Interactive Press, which has published nearly 100 titles digitally, will soon release About Face, a book by Adelaide author Robert Moore. Conceived about 25 years ago, the story about a child who dreams his facial features run away from his face failed initially to win publishers’ favour. But Moore teamed up with Adelaide animation studio Monkeystack, and About Face is now due to be published, accompanied by iPad and iPhone applications.

“Maybe I had to bide my time. All of this [technology] is out there happening … and we can’t resist it,” Moore said.

– Sydney Morning Herald