Thursday, November 26, 2009

CYL report findings ...

I attended the Inky Awards today which are, to quote the Inside a Dog website, an 'award in Australia that relfects what teenagers want to read. The Inkys are international awards for teenage literature'.

As an added bonus at the end of the ceremony, which was great fun, the CYL (Centre for Youth Literature) 'Keeping Young Australians Reading' report was released early for those attending.

The report is commissioned by the State Library of Victoria, and provides a snapshot of the reading landscape for 10 to 19 year olds. It looks at the factors inhibiting reading in this age group, and it also applauds those things we're getting right. It also takes into account findings from other youth surveys conducted at the same time which offer further insight into readers in this age bracket.

Mission Australia findings for example, resulting from a survey they conduct of 45k young people each year on their 'interests, attitudes and concerns', were taken into account.

For anyone involved in young adult literacy, the CYL report makes for fascinating reading.

I've outlined below, some of my own observations, some of the things I found particularly interesting. This is not to say that there aren't many more nuggets of interest to be found in the report. These are just the things that jumped out at me. I'd encourage you to seek out a copy of your own when it's released next week.


  • CYL believe that there should be at least five books read each term by students in this age bracket. The benefits of this increase in reading in school are wide ranging and significant. Apart from the expected literacy and intellectual benefits, there are evident advantages in positive social outcomes and personal wellbeing.

  • Reading is becoming more socially acceptable in this age bracket. I found this particularly interesting ... Harry Potter certainly had a place to play in this, but the new slew of vampire books and movies are also drawing in many young readers.

  • 10 - 13 year olds that are not reading for pleasure are less likely to read for pleasure as adults. This is for neurological reasons. During puberty, the new cells and connections made in the brain made by those that are reading form the basis for their engagement later in life. These connections are not formed, or are shed by those that are either not reading during these years, or that stop reading during this time of physiological and neurological change.

  • More than one in five young adults between the ages of 11 and 19 are concerned about ... 'body image, drugs, family conflict, suicide, personal safety, bullying, emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse, alcohol and copying with stress.' We KNOW young adults are facing these areas of conflict in their lives, what's encouraging is that there is evidence that reading allows young adults to engage with and find a way to work through concerns they may have about these issues.

  • There continues to be a substantial gulf in reading accomplishments between those young adults of indigenous and very remote communities and other students, particularly those in metropolitan Australia. Apparently. This particular part of the report I struggled with. I'm not an expert on this subject by any means. I do know however that indigenous Australians have a rich history of oral storytelling, and wonder how significantly this was taken into account. As nation we are still failing our indigenous people in ways both baffling and disheartening. Perhaps one of the reasons is that their accomplishments are still not understood? How on earth can you compare a young regional indigenous Australian's oral storytelling knowledge to the reading behaviours of 'other students' (their term)??

  • Graphic novels are experiencing a rise in popularity, amongst literacy professionals as well as young adults! I'm a big fan of the opportunities that graphic novels offer us in the classroom. It's encouraging to see them on the rise!

This just a small selection of areas covered in the report that I found particularly interesting. Of course there were mentions of subjects such as the rise of an e-book culture, migrant reading behaviours, economic factors and many others.

As I stated earlier, I'd encourage you to head out and get a copy when it becomes available next week.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Our reality

One of the way in which to turn a story in an unexpected direction ... is to have your protagonists sense of social reality challenged.

There are countless things in our daily lives that only truly exist, because we consider, as a society, that they do exist. Marriage is one, money is another. These things exist because we want them to, and we allow our lives to be governed by them.

There are other considerations that we have that are common, but not universal. If I consider the streets are safe at night because of past experience, and common knowledge in the area, then I may believe it.

When those things that are hallmarks of what is 'normal' are challenged, the results can be unpredictable, and affect notions up to that point in the novel that we have taken for granted.

This can be most dramatic when it occurs unexpectedly. I've been witness to a murder? My sense of mortality / religion / safety on the streets is threatened. All of a sudden, I am dealing with a new reality, a world in which the predictable has become alien and unknown.

The reason this device works so well, is that it's something we as an audience, all fear. We hold on to these commonalities, the social realities that maintain our sense of the world. When they are challenged, it's frightening ... and exciting!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Something New

Over the last few years I've met numerous teachers that had amazing classroom management, that were creative and inspiring ... and had not as yet, incorporated technology into their classrooms.

This bothered me. Being the evangelist that I am, I've converted a few along the way, but always struggled to find a good general resource to offer them. So over the last month I've been working on a project in my spare time that does just that. A gentle introduction into the different ways technology can help in the classroom.

I've made it as approachable as I can, with a selection of some of the better online tools available that I'm aware of. For the most part, these tools are free to use and are browser based, so no downloads required.

Building Community in the Classroom.

I'd love your feedback, and if you have them, some more classroom examples as they are a little light on in some places.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

300 Words

An amazing collection of 300 word stories published in the St Petersburg Times in 2004 made me consider what makes a good story today, and how we assess young adult writing.

If you're looking at criteria for assessment, there are many aspects of a narrative you might include in your rubric. You might focus on a mix of structure and narrative flow. You might look at voice, or a sense of presence in the novel. You may decide commend stories with a well defined story arc. Did they foreshadow effectively? Was there a suitable resolution? The list of considerations is endless.

It is a single characteristic however, that can establish a story as one worthy of credit ... character is often as far as you need to look. A well defined character drives the story. A character we care about and can empathise with, one that is a contradiction of emotions and desires just as we are.

A narrative with a strong, well defined character is essential to a story. When the author knows their subject so well that they 'know the change in their pockets', what makes them, drives them, what they yearn for and truly need. When their characters are so real we can reach out and touch them, then this is something worthy of attention.

The problem is of course, establishing a character rubric, a list of check boxes to determine success or failure is flawed. You can't easily assess the success of a story in this way. The only way to know a good one when you read it is to have a point of comparison ... which is why I'm off early to bed with a book.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Updates to the Media Library

I've updated the Media Library with some new tools. Some you will have seen before, others are new kids on the block, great new in-browser tools for creating online.

If you have a suggestions of how to improve this resource I'd love to hear from you!