Some musings and thoughts on teen reading with a bit of educational theory thrown in.
Last week I went to Hay on Wye, commonly known as ‘The Town of Books’ established by Richard Booth in 1962.
When I reached the Cinema book shop I remembered what it was like to visit the library when I was a teen. There were books piled high on shelves from all time periods on all subjects. I zoned in on the Education and Psychology sections (next to each other). In the Education section, there was not one author I recognised. Upon picking up a book from the shelf on the comprehensive school system, I discovered it had been written in 1961. I put it back, because not only was I put off by the date, but also by the size and its uninspiring olive green of the book jacket (sometimes it is Ok to judge a book by its cover).
When I was a teen I used to have two library tickets and visit two libraries. One which was in a hut on the Park, near where I lived and one within the city centre. I could walk to both and I would often walk to both, on the same day, depending on what my reading obsession was at the time (there have been many including my Agatha Christie Summer).
I liked the small library in the hut, because I knew it well and could take the same books out repeatedly, which I particularly liked to do when I was about 14 and discovered the Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams series. Both being ‘young adult’ romances which featured high school drama, first dates and first love. Both were set in the USA and were a world away from my working-class life on the edge of a City Centre.
In contrast, the City library, could have been the Cinema Book Shop (hence the reminder). There were rows of books which were meaningless and jumbled together, but in my crusade to be someone else and to be a ‘clever person’ who knew things I would select books at random and take them home to try and read.
However, in reality I never really got very far with Machiavelli’s The Prince, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, Greer’s Female Eunuch, or the complete works of Shakespeare. Instead I drifted off to the ‘choose your own adventure books’ or some other easy read instead.
Who could blame me, when the blurb was this attractive,
‘One of the tentacles wraps around your diving helmet and ruptures the seal to your suit. Thank goodness you keep an extra oxygen bottle in your giant chin…’ (Journey under the Sea)
Yes, books and reading are important.
But are sometimes we reading the wrong books?
How do we choose the right ones?
Should there be ‘right ones’?
Shouldn’t we just read,
The ones which will inspire us?
The ones which change us?
The ones which stay with us?
The ones we must stay up all night reading?
The ones which improve our vocabulary?
The ones which will help us pass exams?
The ones everyone says we should read?
(I’m not proposing answers, I am opening up a debate and may one day pick these up and explore in another blog)
As a teen, I vied between what I considered high quality, which I could not understand and what could be considered escapism and probably if tested did not have a particularly high reading age or challenge.
Why did I do this?
I have documented in previous blogs that I lived in a non-academic household, and that there was some focus on books as these were seen as the way to a better life, but the books in my household were the complete set of Mr Men, ladybird books and recipe books.
We didn’t have Jane Eyre or Jane Austin or Thomas Hardy on our two shelves.
So how did I become a reader? Maybe some theory will help…
I’m going to use Vgotsky, as most teachers have come across him somewhere in their career.
There are two principles
1. Cognitive development stems from social interactions from guided learning within the zone of proximal development as children and their partners co-construct knowledge
2. The environment in which children grow up will influence how they think and what they think about
What this really means is that
1. There is a requirement for a More Knowledgeable other – Someone who has better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner
2. The Zone of Proximal Development is what a learner can achieve independently and what a learner can achieve with guidance from the more knowledgeable other
Some of the learners we teach are lucky, they have a more knowledgeable other in terms of a parent, when it comes to reading choices. I did not have a more knowledgeable other at home, my more knowledgeable other needed to be the school I attended and maybe the library.
My attempt to learn without a knowledgeable other, led me to make choices of reading material that was either beyond me or safe. I stopped reading romantic fiction (yes, I progressed to Danielle Steele etc!) when I started A level English because I was embarrassed by this reading choice.
I’ll leave this blog with a few thoughts,
As teachers, do we know which learners are reading ‘safe’ or material that is beyond them? And how should we guide these learners? Do we know which pupils, need more input because they do not have a more knowledgeable other at home?
Should we ever be embarrassed by our reading choices?
I think not, so I will share this.
A quick google search, tells me that there are two ‘Adult’ Sweet Valley High books published in 2011/2012. I don’t think I will be reading them. However, in the spirit of not being embarrassed by a reading choice, I have read Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland, this holiday, which is part romance and part historical as it is based on Louise De La Valliere.