The other day, on the spur of the moment, I watched a documentary on BBC iPlayer called The School That Got Teens Reading. As you may or may not be able to tell from my blog, I absolutely love reading and also am a Teaching Assistant in a primary school, so thought I would watch this programme to see what techniques were used to get teens reading for pleasure and may be apply this at work.
I’m not gonna lie, but I was a bit disappointed by this documentary for quite a few reasons, and judging by the reaction on Twitter, I wasn’t the only one.
Javone Prince, an actor and comedian, was brought into the school to help get reluctant teenage readers that haven’t voluntarily read a book in the last two years to… well… read books, all with a time limit of three weeks. In one sense it’s great getting a celebrity (who was also joined by others through the course of the programme) to help encourage teens, to give a talk and be able to show their enthusiasm – guest speakers in schools do have a positive impact. However, the school does have a librarian, yet they did not make an appearance what-so-ever during the documentary. There was a professional who would have had a lot of knowledge about books and getting people to read yet they weren’t utilised at all – seems a bit counter-productive to not use this brilliant resource. Don’t get me wrong, Javone was a very engaging person and you could clearly see his passion for reading, but I don’t understand why a valuable person wasn’t used.
The next thing I had a bit of a problem with was the fact that only text was used. The book was a YA book chosen by Javone himself: One by Sarah Crossan. I haven’t read the book myself but I have bought a copy as I was intrigued by the story from what I watched. All the teens were made to read this one text – a bit like when you’re in class and you have to read this one particular book for your exam/coursework – no exceptions. No account was taken for the teens’ individual interests, what they would find interesting. Also, a lot of effort was put into getting the teens to be able to relate to the characters. Surely if time was taken to find out what interested the teens then they would have been able to find a book for themselves that they could relate to easier.
This flaw was expanded upon later on in the programme where one particular lad was finding it difficult to get into the book, so Helen Skelton (the co-presenter) found a book for him to read that was closer to his life experiences. The book she chose was Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, a book that I have read and enjoyed (and apparently one of the rare few that liked the ending?!). This book he did read, and mentioned that he would use some of what he’s read to apply it to real life. I call that a sort of win as he enjoyed reading the book, but that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to keep reading for pleasure.
Also what I felt was disregarded was the forms of reading you can do. Not all people that like to read, like to read physical books. Some people prefer to read e-books on Kindles, tablets, phones or laptops, while others like to listen to audiobooks. There are also graphic novels. All valid forms of reading. Another valid form of reading is Fanfiction. There are many great fics online, some sort, some novel length, and most importantly these relate to people’s interests whether it’s books, movies, TV shows etc. Even just reading a newspaper website is what I would call reading for pleasure – it’s something you choose to read – and don’t forget non-fiction books.
At the end of the three weeks, there was success with getting the teens to read as most of the class were engaged with the book, some had read the book in its entirety. However it does make you wonder how many teens kept reading, and if they engage in any other forms of reading.
Overall it was an engaging programme and I loved Javone’s enthusiasm – I reckon he would be great to talk to about books – but whether life long habits have been formed is another question.