The link below is to an article reporting on flood damage to the Australian National University’s Chifley Library in Canberra, Australia.
The links below are to articles reporting on the longlist for the Man Booker International Prize 2018.
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In the days before social media – and, presumably, media training – Gerald Ratner’s description of some of the products sold in his chain of jewellers as “total crap” became a byword for the corporate gaffe. Recently the chief executive of publisher Hachette Livre, Arnaud Nourry, seems to have suffered his own “Ratner moment” when he described ebooks in an interview with an Indian news site as a “stupid product”.
The interview, which was intended to address the future of digital publishing and specific issues facing the Indian publishing market, was widely misquoted and Nourry’s comments taken out of context. But there is no denying the fact that the publisher criticises his own industry (“We’re not doing very well”) and attacks ebooks for lacking creativity, not enhancing the reading experience in any way and not offering readers a “real” digital experience.
Some commenters on social media welcomed Nourry’s comments for their honesty. They highlight his seeming support for the idea that publishers should be championing writers and artists working to exploit the creative potential of digital formats to provide readers with experiences that may be challenging and disruptive, but also exhilarating and boundary pushing.
But many of the 1,000-plus commenters reacting to coverage of the story on The Guardian’s website spoke out against “fiddling for the sake of it” – claiming they were not interested in enhanced features or “gamified dancing baloney” borrowed from other media. They also listed the many practical enhancements that ebooks and ereaders do offer. The obvious one is the ability to instantly download books in remote locations where there are no bricks and mortar bookstores. But there are other less obvious enhancements, including being able to instantly access dictionary and encyclopedia entries (at least if you have wifi access) and the option to have the book read to you if you have visual impairments.
Elsewhere, Australian researcher Tully Barnett has shown how users of Kindle ereaders adapt features such as Highlights and Public Notes for social networking, demonstrating that even if ebooks are not that intrinsically innovative or creative, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t be made so by imaginative users.
Nourry clearly isn’t averse to the provocative soundbite – in the same interview he went on to say: “I’m not a good swallower” when asked about mergers and conglomeration in the publishing industry. On the other hand, he also seems very aware of the special place of books and reading in “culture, education, democracy” – so his use of the word “stupid” in this context is particularly inflammatory and insensitive.
My research on digital reading has taught me that debating books vs ereaders is always likely to arouse strong passions and emotions. Merely mentioning the word Kindle has led in some instances to my being shouted at – and readers of “dead tree” books are rightly protective and passionate about the sensory and aesthetic qualities of physical books that the digital version possibly can’t compete with.
But, equally, my research has shown that enhancements in terms of accessibility and mobility offer a lifeline to readers who might not be able to indulge their passion for reading without the digital.
In my latest project, academics from Bournemouth and Brighton universities, in collaboration with Digitales (a participatory media company), worked with readers to produce digital stories based on their reading lives and histories. A recurring theme, especially among older participants, was the scarcity of books in their homes and the fact that literacy and education couldn’t be taken for granted. Our stories also demonstrated how intimately reading is connected with self-worth and helps transform lives disrupted by physical and mental health issues – making comments about any reading as “stupid” particularly damaging and offensive.
I would like to know if Nourry would still call ebooks stupid products after watching Mary Bish’s story: My Life in Books from our project. A lifelong reader who grew up in a home in industrial South Wales with few books, Mary calls her iPad her “best friend” and reflects how before the digital age her reading life would have been cut short by macular degeneration.
As well as demonstrating that fairly basic digital tools can be used to create powerful stories, our project showed that the digital also makes us appreciate anew those features of the physical book we may take for granted, the touch, smell and feel of paper and the special place that a book handed down from generation to generation has in the context of family life.
Year 3 reading outcomes of 2017 NAPLAN testing once again demonstrate a gender gap, with boys underachieving compared to girls. A focus on teaching for the test has not closed the gender gap and only reduced student motivation and well-being.
Calls for a review of NAPLAN ten years on are timely. But as well as looking at how high-stakes testing is narrowing the curriculum and causing student stress, we need to consider the testing regime’s influence on boys’ attitudes towards reading.
Attitudes towards reading
Reports increasingly highlight how negative attitudes towards reading constrain experiences for some boys. In the United Kingdom, a National Literacy Trust survey of 21,000 children aged eight to 16 found boys were more likely than girls to believe someone who reads is boring and a geek.
This attitude is believed to be related to deep-seated cultural issues that lead many boys to believe reading is feminine and “uncool”. Reluctance to read then translates into less time reading and lower achievement.
There is now a call in the UK for schools to have a policy of promoting enjoyment of reading rather than just a focus on effective teaching of phonics skills.
We have known for a long time that positive attitudes towards reading influence boys’ engagement with reading. Engagement influences practice, resulting in the Matthew Effect as cumulative exposure to print accelerates development of reading processes and knowledge.
Attitudes towards reading are not innate; they are learned predispositions in response to favourable or unfavourable experiences. In this way, a boys’ attitude towards reading develops over time as the result of beliefs about reading and, importantly, specific reading experiences.
In Australia, the focus on NAPLAN has changed the landscape of teaching and literacy experiences for students.
As part of this change, didactic teaching of reading for NAPLAN can compound negative attitudes about the nature of reading at school. Reading is seen as a passive (feminine) endeavour associated with boring schoolwork (preparing for the test).
While teaching phonics is already embedded in good teaching practice, the introduction of the Year 1 phonics check will potentially further narrow the curriculum as teachers are pressured to teach for yet another test. This initiative could also impact on teaching practices for reading in the early years.
If we are interested in enhancing reading outcomes for underachieving boys, we need to foster positive attitudes towards reading that translate into practice. The change needs to be from a focus on teaching reading to helping boys become successful and satisfied readers.
Enjoyment correlates with NAPLAN outcomes
My recent survey of 320 Year 3 children from 14 schools in Queensland identified their self-reported enjoyment of story books, non-fiction books, magazines and comics, and self-reported reading frequency.
Students coloured in a box to reflect an emotive face on a Likert scale to indicate their level of enjoyment and their frequency of reading. Students’ Year 3 NAPLAN reading outcomes were also collected.
Findings from the Pearson test of correlation between survey variables indicated correlation between higher student NAPLAN reading scores and higher levels of enjoyment for reading story books/non-fiction books and higher reading frequency. There was a statistically significant positive correlation between reading scores and reading frequency, and reading scores and reading enjoyment.
Even when teachers are supporting specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia), it’s important to expand boys’ repertoire of positive reading experiences. This requires a shift from the exclusive teaching of the mechanics of reading to teaching practices that contextualise experiences and encourage enjoyment of reading.
Some strategies for success for boys (and girls):
Expand school reading cultures. Directly challenge beliefs about reading being a feminine pursuit. Teachers can select and use texts that challenge what it means to be male and the power structures that exist in school and society.
Focus on the arts. Include artists-in-residence schemes, poetry weeks, dance sessions run by professional dancers, and drama productions that allocate lead roles to disengaged boys. Boys often enjoy working with “readers’ theatre” scripts, which allow them to feel like active participants in a story.
Leave reading choices up to students 50% of the time. Provide a wide range of texts to stimulate interest and build confidence through paired reading schemes and teacher decisions to give students space to talk about and reflect on what was enjoyable.
Promote male mentoring. Include parent-mentors and vertical mentoring with older boys mentoring younger boys in the school.
Let them talk! Boys who are reluctant readers need to have successful reading experiences. Use literature circles with mixed-ability grouping, providing boys with the support they need to focus on the “big ideas” in the story, as well as on the words and structure of the texts.
Include variety. Use interactive classroom activities fit for purpose so that both short, specific focused activities and more sustained, ongoing activities are used, as and when appropriate.
Risk-taking in teacher practice. Bring more creativity and variety. Expose students to new and novel reading experiences.
Implement teaching practices that encourage discussion. Based on Philosophy for Children, enhance reading comprehension as students explore different answers, examine the strengths and weaknesses for each, and critically reflect on assumptions along the way.
When the focus is on teaching for the test, direct instruction and an exclusive focus on phonics, there is a narrowing of curriculum and teaching practice. Strategies can be easily implemented in the classroom. We need to move from teaching reading for NAPLAN testing, to teaching boys to enjoy reading to ensure their success.
The link below is to an article reporting on the call for a statue to memorialize Mary Wollstonecraft.