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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Reluctant Readers in Education?

We are well aware of the value of reading in schools and the importance placed on encouraging children to pick up a book but could magazines and comics have the answer in helping to raise literacy levels in the UK?

When discussing falling literacy levels it is easy to disregard that children are digesting information in a different way. The proliferation of smartphones and tablet computers now available to the younger generation mean that more and more children have greater choice in the way they receive information, from a variety of different online sources.  In much the same way that it was feared the MTV generation would suffer from shortened attention spans due to watching quick-cut music videos and high energy production, it can be increasingly hard to focus children’s attention to reading longer-from books and traditional texts into their teenage years.  

Boys can be a specific concern, with fewer teenage boys reading books than girls of the same age.  Rather than looking at ways to apportion blame for children reading less, instead many schools have adopted the approach that magazines and comics can offer a route to encourage children to continue reading.  This is not a new approach, several years ago the US State of Maryland introduced a comics in the classroom initiative through their Department for Education – bringing together comics and graphic novels as a way of encouraging reluctant readers to start reading.  The positive response to the project led to a broadening of the initiative to make comics and graphic novels a mainstay of education in the state – something which is yet to be fully replicated in the UK. 

As growing numbers of children ditch reading longer texts and books, there is a view that children connect more readily with magazines which can talk to children about a world that is relevant to them.  Reluctant readers can be encouraged to pick up a magazine more easily than a book in the first instance thanks to their bite-size content.  Even children which a relatively short attention span can benefit from the obvious benefits of reading magazines as a gateway onto new and different types of longer-form text. 

Egmont is one of the UK’s biggest publishers of children’s magazines with titles such as Animal Cuties, Ben 10 and Disney Princess available for pre-school through to teenage readers.   Their titles are popular as a way to offer alternative forms of materials to all readers, reflecting popular culture and special interest to different age groups. 

Alison David, Consumer Insight Director at Egmont said:

“Magazines connect because they offer greater relevance to children.  As more young people find themselves in the zone of focused attention, where they react short term to a stimulus rather than sustained attention, which is what is demanded of longer form text like a book, magazines are playing an ever more important role in encouraging different forms of reading.

“Attention spans are decreasing to reflect our burst oriented media culture of ‘flit and skim’ stories - we generally spend less than one minute on the average web site – and magazines act as a mid-way point between this quick-skim culture to longer-forms of text and books.  Magazines can play an important part in children’s lives, in part because of the easily digestible format which plays to the shorter attention span of children and the popular culture-focused content which has relevance to individuals.“

The UK Literacy Association (UKLA) has wholeheartedly embraced the role that magazines can have on education and recently partnered with Egmont UK to bring a series of Magazine Workshops to schools. The practical workshops aim to promote the critical reading of magazines in schools, an understanding of why and how magazines are produced, and to emphasise the value of including children’s magazines in an inspiring reading curriculum.  The workshops are designed to engage all Key Stage 2 children and teaching materials can be downloaded via the UKLA website. 

Unique Magazines work with over 200 schools libraries to supply a range of special interest, children’s and teenage magazines and comics to help bridge the gap between books and popular culture-led forms of reading material.  Like the UKLA, many of the schools and libraries who work with Unique  take the stance that ignoring the value of magazines and their unequal status with texts in the classroom can only further increase the gap between school-based literacy and the home.  

As the dominance of smartphones continues, the role of the magazine is becoming more important to help turn reluctant readers onto wider forms of reading but the emphasis must be on schools to place comics, magazines and graphic novels as an important resource in school libraries up and down the country. 

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