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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

How Do Sixth Graders REALLY Feel About Reading and "Devices"?

What am I going to do with two computers and 32 kids per class? Nothing, on a daily or regular basis. I use them mainly when kids need technology to accommodate learning issues such as motor dyspraxia, an inability to use fine motor skills; the computers dictate written lessons.
Forget the stereotypical image of a “born digital” kid permanently attached to a digital device, fluent in all things technological. Here’s my reality, with data from the sixth-grade trenches at St. Michael School in Livonia, Michigan.

Let me start by reiterating that tweens are not teens; older tweens are not younger tweens. I know from experience and observation that the 10 to 12.5 age group has unique circumstances and challenges when it comes to reading with technology (or not).

This year, for a deeper dive, I introduced an anonymous attitude survey, in addition to my annual reading interest survey. The attitude survey measures how my three fresh classes of sixth graders (96 of them) feel about print versus digital reading, including their use of digital devices (or not).

They took this online survey a couple weeks ago in computer class, which has one computer per kid. (My classroom has only two computers for student use.) What I learned from the results is that tweens generally have some level of access to devices—tablets, ereaders, desktops, laptops, smartphones. But, on the whole, they don’t own the devices or use them frequently (yet).

In my classes, many tweens tend to get their first cell phone or (if they’re lucky) smart phone and perhaps a tablet at Christmas time. Tweens with older siblings tell me that they are at the bottom of the totem pole and often get pushed off the family computer. So, in response, I give out any online assignments far in advance and include a back-up plan to allow students to complete computer work before or after school or at lunch time, if necessary.

Here are the results from this year’s survey, for data geeks, along with some interesting and thought-provoking comments about reading, for those who (like me) make that their mission.

“On a scale of very good, good, sometimes it’s ok, bad, or very bad, how do you feel about…”

1. Reading a book in your free time?

Data: Oh happy me, almost half (48%) said “very good.” Not just good, but “VERY good!” Another 30% said “good,” for a total of 78% positive. I have 5 students who feel either “bad or very bad” or “would rather not.” (The rest are ambivalent.) I hope to get to the root of that reluctance and, with persistence and good book guidance, flip the switch to positive.

“I am not a big reader so I want to get better and start to love to read and write.”

“My favorite thing to do is read. Right now I am reading the series Inkheart. The books are Inkheart, Inkspell, and Inkdeath. My favorite kind of book is a action novel of a horror book.”

“I usually will not read but, when I do I like it. Then after I read a book, I won't read another for a bit. I would like to stop this problem this year.”

“I do not read because sometimes I am working on my Halloween Costume And it's GREEN!!!!!!!!! Or I play video games with my friends in my free time. I also like making LEGO movies but they take up a lot of time to finish. I LOVE working with computers and finding shortcuts and secrets about it.” (Note: Though the survey is anonymous, I recognize the project. This student is really into technology and made an excellent stop-action video for our school’s Green Team to promote our fundraising raffle.)

2. Reading a novel for class?

Data: When it comes to fiction, no one felt “bad” or “very bad” and only 3% “would rather not.” Almost half (48%) said “very good.” Again, that’s VERY good. The “good” responses tallied 38%, for a positive total of 86%. Suddenly, I feel “very good”!

“I LOVE to read, and I usually read almost every day. I love all kinds of books. Mystery and Horror are my favorites.”

“I really like to read adventure books. Adventure books make me want to read more and more and more until I'm reading for about 40 minutes or more.”

“I feel reading is a gift to whoever is literate enough to read and actually it’s a reward. Like your first book ‘cause you learned how to read on that very day and you should always be happy when or while you’re reading cause it is fun, a gift, I like doing, you should too, and so this means if you’re allowed to read or even not to - just go where the wind blows you inside that book, read along, and have a great reading experience!" (Note: A student who reads when they are not supposed to? Under the covers with a flashlight? Be still my heart!)

3. Reading a newspaper or magazine article for class?

Data: 19% would “rather not” and 28% thought it was “sometimes okay”; almost half (48%) felt “good” or “very good.”

4. Reading anything in print (book, magazine, comic book, etc.)?

Data: Only 1 student reported “bad”; 77% said “good” or “very good.”

“Well, I LOVE to read. Ever since school started, even if I get a few seconds to read, I enjoy reading!”

5. Talking with friends about something you’re reading? (I emphasize word-of-mouth as a great way to discover books and authors. Last year, my students took that idea one step further by creating a “Word of Mouth” wall.)

Data: 2 out of 3 (66%) said “good” or “very good.” I wonder: What would make some kids (9%) reluctant to share?

6. Getting a book or a magazine as a present?

Data: Again, two-thirds (66%) said “good” or “very good” with about a quarter (22%) ambivalent (“sometimes it’s okay”).

“I love to read realistic fiction and am very excited to read what every you give me.” (note: Is this a little sponge, or what!! He or she is ready and excited to learn.)

7. Reading a textbook? (I didn’t specify print or digital. We still have a print textbook for each class, but social studies, math, and science textbooks are also available online.)

Data: More than a third (37%) are okay with it and (surprised?) a little less than half (46%) feel “good” or “very good.”

“I don't like reading information online for homework. I would rather read a textbook. Reading on a screen does not bother me, but I would rather read a hard cover book always.”

8. Doing research using encyclopedias or other references? (I still keep a print set of World Books in my classroom, A to Z.)

Data: Half (49%) answered, “Sometimes it’s okay.” I’ll take that (for now). The rest were split pretty evenly between negative and positive. A similar question about “using a dictionary” mirrored these results.

9. Looking up information online for a class?

Data: 21% said “very good” and 44% said “good” while 21% answered “sometimes it’s okay.”

“Well I like to read on my iPad a lot and research.”

10. Reading digitally for a class (online or on an e-reader)?

Data: 3 out of 4 (74%) are cool with that, reporting “good” or “very good.”

“I do like digital materials as much as printed materials. Digital materials can be useful and fun like when you press the READ button it will automatically read for you and define words. Yet printed reading is fun because you can be challenged with new words that you'’ll need to look up to understand.”

11. Reading a book online for class?

Data: When it comes to a whole book, not as many, 58%, said “good” or “very good”; 15% “would rather not” and a few kids said they’d feel “bad” or “very bad.”

“I only like to read if it's a biography or something. Reading is for certain not my first choice in my spare time. But I am okay reading if it's for school.”

“You know I am crazy about reading. I LOVE it. I would rather read something printed rather than online. I once read a book for Battle of the Books last year on my Kindle, but didn't really like it because you need to charge the device and it is harder to flip back to pages.”

“I like having a printed book better than digital, but I have a Nook and don't mind using it.”

“I love the idea of reading digitally because I think that it would be easier to not lose your place in a book. Also, because you can highlight important things with a tablet or computer.” (Note: I write in my books all the time to model active reading strategies such as questioning, predicting, and evaluating. My students will report that someone wrote in a book and then they are surprised, even relieved, to know it was me. When they get used to the idea, some students look for the books I have written in.)

12. Reading news online for a class?

Data: About the same—57% replied “good” or “very good”; 30% answered “sometimes it’s okay.”

“I do not enjoy reading on a screen. I rather have an actual book in my hands, I think it is easier to read and it is more fun.”

“I really, really don't like reading anything online.”

13. Working on an internet project with classmates?

Data: This proposal drew the second highest positives (after reading a novel), with 84% responding “good” or “very good” and only a handful (7%) feeling negative. Overall, I think kids just like working together, whether it’s for an online project or something concrete in class.

14. Emailing your friends in your free time?

Data: More than 1 out of 4 (28%) don’t have access to email; 43% reported “good” or “very good.”

“Well I would really like to have E-mail but I never asked my mom. I would really like to have texting, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and a phone.”

15. Texting your friends in your free time?

Data: 21% don’t have access, which is a little less than email access. Most (59%) feel “good” or “very good.”

“I don't really like texting during my free time because I know that I can be doing better things. I do not have access to facebook or Twitter and I don't want to.”

“I can talk to my friends on the phone or in person, but I am not allowed to text.”

16. Using social media (like Twitter or Instagram) in your free time?

Data: 35% report that they don’t have access; 11% responded negatively (“very bad” or “bad” or “would rather not”); 13% were on the fence (“sometimes it’s okay”). Our school is not unique in that we have had to deal with cyber issues. We have instituted a school-wide digital citizenship program. We also host the Michigan Attorney General’s Cyber Safety Initiative, a program that all of our students K-8 attend.

“I enjoy Instagram because I can chat with friends even when I am not at school.”

“I don't have Instagram or Twitter because I don't feel that they are very good. People that I know have gotten hurt emotionally and I wouldn't want to be in the middle of that.”

“I personally don't like Instagram or Twitter, and I am also not allowed to have either.” (Note: I feel that not having access really impacts this age group and that attitudes will change as a student moves into high school and owns a device or two.)

The last question allowed students to add comments that they like. Let me share a few more about reading:

“I like reading, so on days when it's too cold outside, or it's raining, or snowing, I like reading my book on the couch, with my dog. Reading is like swimming, you jump into the book, and swim deeper and deeper till you get to the end, and while your going farther and farther down, you learn that it might be hard to breath - like a book, it might be harder to read!”

“Sometimes I like reading before I go to bed so I have time to think about the book.”

“I love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love love to rrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaadddddddddd!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
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