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Derek McMillan

Books

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I teach ICT and got my pupils to conduct a survey about favourite TV programs, colours, books to create a small database. This year I expected a lot of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings possibly from people who had not actually read the books...and indeed with some classes this is what happened.

For the first time ever however I had a group in which the overwhelming majority put "Don't read" (without the apostrophe in fact). Not can't (although some of them do struggle with reading), don't.

Is this a fluke or is it a triumph of the literacy strategy?

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Was there any difference in the responses from boys and girls. A recent study suggested that boys did not see reading as a masculine activity. It does not help when their sporting heroes appear on television and openly state they never read books (as Tim Henman did the other day).

I remember reading about a professional footballer who was ostracised because he used to read the Guardian in the dressing-room (interestingly, this behaviour led to him receiving comments that he was gay).

There was another study carried out on the behaviour of young people travelling on British rail. It was noted that young women were far more likely to be seen reading books than young men. When young men were asked why they rarely read of the train, a large percentage said they thought it did not look very sexy and that it would reduce their chances of picking up women. If men are stopping reading in order to become more sexually attractive, we really do have problems.

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Actually in this group the proportion of girls and boys giving this response was the same but I have come across boys who think reading is "gay." This may be because "gay" is an undifferentiated term of abuse they apply to anything they don't like.

I have noticed that as male teachers get older they are less likely to be labelled as "gay" by disaffected pupils. I wonder if they think we grow out of it :rolleyes:

Derek McMillan

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Guest Andrew Moore

Hm, rather an understatement there, John (I think that there was more than ostracism) - but I won't quote here what Mr. Robbie Fowler said, during a match to Mr. Graeme Le Saux.

Boys do, of course, still read, but it's quite common for them to read things other than books. In which case they probably don't think of it as reading, and therefore not "gay" either... I'm sure that one can lead them to realize just what and how much they do read.

I suspect that Derek is right about the effect of the Literacy Strategy. If we had a National Game Console Strategy instead, maybe the boys would give up these games and start reading books...

This is not an especially new phenomenon, though: when I started teaching in 1979 there were as many students as now (maybe more) who did not touch books, save under sufferance.

Of course there are plenty of boys reading books, as you can see by a visit to www.cool-reads.co.uk

The young man who reckoned that reading books would reduce his chances of meeting women is, I believe, profoundly mistaken. But at this point one might become inappropriately personal and anecdotal....

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I suspect that Derek is right about the effect of the Literacy Strategy. If we had a National Game Console Strategy instead, maybe the boys would give up these games and start reading books...

LOL I often think when trying to enforce uniform rules that if we insisted on pupils wearing baseball caps and baggy shorts these items of apparrel would disappear as well.

Of course the problem is not a new one. When I started teaching (also in 1979) we were still using those appalling comprehension exercises guaranteed to kill any interest in reading stone dead.

I think text messages and emails ensure that the skill of reading does not vanish from the face of the earth and it is possible to read books online and the fact that I find it irritating perhaps says more about me than about the medium.

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I probably read more often from the screen these days than I read from books, and I guess this applies to most of the male nerds out there. I tend, however, to read lots of short chunks of text rather than longer texts, say, of five A4 pages or more, which I would print out in order to read them in comfort. I always take a book with me on a train journey or on a long flight.

Web guru Jakob Nielsen writes:

"Reading from computer screens is about 25% slower than reading from paper. Even users who don't know this human factors research usually say that they feel unpleasant when reading online text."

Be Succinct! Writing for the Web, Alertbox for March 15, 1997: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9703b.html

It was interesting to read the story in The Times (29 November 2000, p. 9) headed King leaves Internet readers in suspense. Stephen King decided not to complete his Internet novel The Plant because - according to King - "it failed to grab the attention of readers on the Web". King found that a surprisingly high proportion of the readers accessing his site (75%-80%) made the "honesty payment" for being allowed to download chapters: "But", he said, "there are a lot fewer of them coming. Online people have the attention span of a grasshopper." The article points out "that digital publishing has a bleak future because it is an unattractive medium for reading long texts and it is difficult to stop breach of copyright". See: http://www.stephenking.com

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I also take a book for train journeys and I have never taken a computer to bed after a tiring day!

However, I think there is a future for writing online. I would suggest that it would be:

1) Open source - authors will soon find out that getting themselves known online will help sales of their paper books. People who write for the sheer love of writing (or in my case egotism!) already publish online.

2) Make much more use of hypertext and illustrations.

3) Use fewer words. There is nothing wrong with brevity after all :)

If it is possible to encourage my librophobic pupils to read in this way then it is a worthwhile exercise.

Derek McMillan

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Guest Andrew Moore

Yes, and probably someone lamented the fact that Shakespeare could not get patronage for more than a few long narrative poems (the Earl of Southampton perhaps dreaded reading another). So he had to write in an upstart medium that paid better.

The Stephen King story proves little, other than that most of his readers want books. And that he writes, not for the love of it, but for the money. His comment about attention span is patronizing and contemptuous. The best riposte is to cite the artists who have worked out what to do with the new medium - like David Bowie.

Oh, and that, while there are, and will be, many forms of writing that work well on the Web - old and new ones, some (like American Gothic novels) do not translate so well. Other old forms (lyric poetry, say) are very much at home, as are new forms like the blog.

Mr. King would, it seems, argue that computer games would never succeed, because people like soccer and baseball. He seems lacking in a sense of logic, and incapable of imagining a world where people do different things at various times.

The claim that digital publishing has a bleak future is both nonsense and wishful thinking. Mr. King would maybe like it to have a bleak future, because he can control print more easily.

Something similar has happened/is happening in other arts and media - so now musicians may write and publish from a bedroom, and yet achieve celebrity and sales. And Robert Rodriguez shows that you can make profitable films, without great expense, thanks to digital technologies.

This is a new medium. Its potential has barely been tapped yet. Derek mentions images. I would like to mention sounds - digital audio technologies will also transform use of the Internet, Web browsing and messaging, for example.

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Guest brinn

If boys have trouble reading (or admitting they read) books, it is rather interesting that until my post now, all the posters here are male (and successful at their chosen sphere).

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If boys have trouble reading (or admitting they read) books, it is rather interesting that until my post now, all the posters here are male (and successful at their chosen sphere).

I think there is a feeling among pupils (male and female) that there is a point in reading if there is a test on what you have read and otherwise no point. Unfortunately the ******* in the government seem to feel the same way :blink:

Teachers can fight back against this tendency. The main enemy seems to be the testing regime of SATS; which would explain the number of writers for children who have protested against SATS....http://satsmustgo.tripod.com

Derek McMillan

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Guest brinn

Leaving aside the business of reading being only a matter of testing (I don't disagree with you, DMc, that that is how successive Govts have seen it), the fact is that most people DO READ.

Boys read mags and posters and the sports section of newspapers, and the complicated instructions for the Xbox, Gameboy and Playstation games they play and the dialogues on the games they play, and... (my husband says 'the back of crisps packages').

It seems to me that what we need to be doing is to inform our kids how much they DO do so they believe they CAN do it. They can be quite startled at how much they do read after years of being told how little they can read.

You know?

Replies on a postcard please (Because, after all, the length of posts on here would put any boy off!!) <_<

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I have complained about our new curriculum approach here before, but this one absolutely floored me. I have had a concerned parent ring me. Her daughter has started high school and the school decided last year to allow all students to choose the "type" of English they do - English with a Media Focus/English with an Everyday Focus/English with a Literature Focus. She has discovered that her daughter is the only Yr 7 student out of 120 who chose (or perhaps was encouraged to choose - parents are librarian/journalist) the Literature Focus. She has had to be put in with a Yr 10 class of eight other students - the only ones who chose it last year when it began. Undoubtedly, the proportions will remain the same and by 2006 there should be a maximum of 20 students out of 500 doing that particular "focus". What does that say about children's attitude to reading, and the school's? This is considered cutting edge curriculum reform. I sometimes absolutely despair of what is happening to education.

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Guest brinn
I have complained about our new curriculum approach here before, but this one absolutely floored me. I have had a concerned parent ring me. Her daughter has started high school and the school decided last year to allow all students to choose the "type" of English they do - English with a Media Focus/English with an Everyday Focus/English with a Literature Focus. She has discovered that her daughter is the only Yr 7 student out of 120 who chose (or perhaps was encouraged to choose - parents are librarian/journalist) the Literature Focus. She has had to be put in with a Yr 10 class of eight other students - the only ones who chose it last year when it began. Undoubtedly, the proportions will remain the same and by 2006 there should be a maximum of 20 students out of 500 doing that particular "focus". What does that say about children's attitude to reading, and the school's? This is considered cutting edge curriculum reform. I sometimes absolutely despair of what is happening to education.

Absolutely!

The thing is that every literature exam students do - as in the Year 7 and 8 Optionals and the SATs and the GCSEs - are impossible hoops with ridiculous questions that students are not, in some cases, intellectually developed enough to manage.

'Literature' at school increasingly kills reading novels (and at secondary level, poems) for pleasure for students.

Working as I do in a secondary school obsessed with league tables, I feel more like a bully than a teacher of English as I force the poor KS3 students in my care through an impossible syllabus.

We no longer teach for life; we teach to exams; something I believe was called 'cramming' rather than teaching, once. :-(

Edited to add I agree with you, Andrew. I hope the Internet continues to open up opportunities. Never mind, King, I remember Asimov and several short stories of the sixties which predicted a world of possibilities in computing communication, education and reading.

Edited by brinn

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I cannot believe what I have just read! And this is "cutting edge" is it??

I have just had problems accessing one of the 7 computer suites which are supposedly bookable by all depts-ha ha!

I have e-mailed the head and informed him that instead of using technology to create mini magazines I will read a novel to the class. Yes READ A NOVEL TO THE CLASS! No guided reading but simply a class reading together, just like in the "olden days" (well pre Lit strat anyway).

Hope there are no inspectors around.

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