22 April 2012

How To Get The Young To Read

In this day and age, there’s always a new distraction to prevent young people from digging into a book and getting lost in between its covers. If it’s not television catching their attention, it’s websites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and all the other hallmarks of this wired-up world.
With school out and the country deep into the summer season, parents, teachers, and reading advocates would be hard-pressed to draw young people away from their outings, parties, and vacation time and encourage them to peruse pages.

It was these very same distractions – as well as how to combat them – that were the focus of discussion at the forum entitled “How to Get the Young to Read”, with acclaimed poet Ralph Semino Galan, Flipside digital content managing editor Honey de Peralta, as well as blogger and teacher Tarie Sabido serving as speakers.
“How to Get the Young to Read” was just one of the numerous discussions at the Manila International Literary Festival, a three-day celebration of the Philippine Book Development Month organized by the National Book Development Board.
For Honey de Peralta, the problem of getting young people to read has been something that she has been grappling with for years. As a teacher of high school English for 12 years – eight of which spent in the Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) high school – she was under constant pressure to get her students to read.
“How do you get them to read? That’s always a battle, and the other subjects will always go to you when these students can’t read in those other subjects. ‘What are you doing? You’re the English teacher!’” shares de Peralta.
De Peralta says that the English department of the AdMU at the time tried various activities in an effort to make reading attractive to their students. They tried implementing a “Drop Everything And Read” (D.E.A.R.) program, a portion in the class where teaching stops and students just pick up a book and read. They also tried to put up libraries for every classrooms, as well as holding mandatory reading periods of 15 minutes at the beginning of each day for one month.
However, de Peralta says that all of their efforts failed in one way or another. The D.E.A.R. was the first to go when teachers had to catch up on the lesson; books from the classroom libraries would end up missing; and students and teachers began to see the mandatory reading periods as a chore.
“It came to the point where the kids started thinking that it was a chore. You saw the teachers trudging to their rooms, where they weren’t reading but checking because as a teacher you have paperwork and you try to find as much time as you can to check all the papers. While the kids were reading, the teachers were checking. Now what kind of message does that give?” shares de Peralta.
It was these reactions from both teachers and students that inspired de Perlata to come up with the solution that worked for the AdMU high school at the time. What they needed to make reading amenable to their students, says de Peralta, was to build a community.
“When we want to teach the kids how to read, I think it’s not the kids we have to target first. It’s the teachers and the rest of the community that you have to target,” she explains. “We involve the ones who make the decisions and influence the students the most, who are the teachers. That’s how we trickle it down to the students themselves.”
De Peralta started encouraging reading and book discussion among teachers in her department, first by setting up a newsletter called “Book Watch”, and then setting up reading challenges for the teachers, with each book read earning the teachers a gold star.
“I challenged them to read 24 books for the year, and for every book that they finished, we put a star on their cubicles. When I tell people this, they say pambata, but the teachers were very competitive!” she recalls with a laugh.
Now that the teachers were getting back to reading, the challenge was to transfer that same enthusiasm to the students themselves. De Peralta and the AdMU high school English department accomplished this by putting up wanted posters throughout the school.
“We had the idea of putting up wanted posters not just of teachers, but everyone in the community that we could get so that the students could see that their teachers are reading,” she shares. “If it’s a teacher that the student likes, then they can approach that teacher. We got a lot of good feedback about that because the students realized that their teachers read.”
Blogger Tarie Sabido also recommends turning to a community when it comes to engendering a love for the written word among young Filipinos. Sabido is part of the Kidlitosphere, a community of reviewers, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers, parents, and other book enthusiasts who blog about children’s and young adult literature.
Sabido calls the Kidlitosphere her secret resource, and says that it has given her countless ideas as to how to get students interested in reading.
“The Kidlitosphere, if you tap into this resource, you will discover thousands and thousands of book reviews. A lot of the bloggers are teachers, librarians, concerned parents. If there is anything that would fit your curriculum, a teacher blogger would definitely mention it in her review,” she says.
More importantly, the Kidlitosphere also exposes teachers and reading advocates to technologically-adept teenagers who also have a love for books and reading. Reading the blogs of these young people allows teachers to find out what it is that young people want to read.
“You get an idea of what the children and teenagers themselves love. There are a lot of teenage Filipino book bloggers. You’ll see what they love and what they don’t love because they’re very honest,” she says.
Sabido also suggests that instead of treating technological advances as a threat to reading, teachers and reading advocates should embrace it as another tool with which to promote reading. She cites the rising popularity of “book trailers”, and how it has helped her get her students to read and interact with the text.
“Book trailers are another way of seeing what the newest books are and what they’re about. I find that if you ask your students to create their own book trailers for their assigned reading, it’s a really good test of their comprehension of the text,” she shares. “It also shows how they connected or didn’t connect with the text. It’s also a good outlet for creative expression, and my students really love it when they check Youtube and they count the number of views for their book trailers.”
Poet Ralph Semino Galan doesn’t just advice embracing technological advances, but also accepting other media’s interpretation of a book and its message. He says that rather than putting off young people from reading the book, movie adaptations actually drive them to pick up the books.
“Although people used to worry about it, the idea is fairly well accepted that the existence of a well done media piece, movie, or adaptation, increases the number of readers that a book has. Bakit bestseller ang ‘Twilight’ series? Bumibili kasi after watching the film they’re interested to read the book,” he explains.
Aside from movies, Galan also says that teachers of reading and literature may have to loosen their stand when it comes to reading guides such as Cliff Notes and Spark Notes.
“I don’t think that it should be treated as a betrayal of the text but rather as a way to make literature more accessible to students. I know that my students have a difficult time reading the language of Shakespeare within the present context, so you might want to get this edition, a ‘No Fear Shakespeare’. But I always point out to them in the contemporary rendition of Shakespearean works would somehow miss out on the allusions and the poetic moments and the alliterations,” he says.
But more important than all these new tools, says Galan, is the teachers themselves. As pointed out by de Peralta, Galan says that the teachers themselves have to make the text come alive for the young minds that they are shaping.
“Seduce them first to become interested with your subject, and later on, they will do their own reading. It happens naman with some students. Excerpt lang ang tinake-up mo in this particular course, and then the following semester you see them carrying the book. You ask them why and they say they became curious because of the discussion,” Galan says.




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