'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 25 July 2011

Guest Post: New Reading Approaches to Appeal to the 2.0 Generation

KBR warmly welcomes Sandra Arthur, author and literacy advocate, with this fascinating guest post on reading for an online generation.

With so much of our lives now being shared online, it is no surprise that the young children of today need to be technically savvy and adapt at using the web. We are all being bombarded with more information, in one week, let alone one year, than our forefathers would have perhaps been exposed to in their LIFETIME. For an average person on an ordinary day, it amounts to 34 gigabytes of data or 100,500 words.

Input comes from a variety of sources unrelated to work/school, including movies, mobile phones, television, the Internet, video games, newspapers, magazines, books and music.

This to some degree is driving children to have a very short attention span. Thirty minutes of TV, ten minutes with DS Games, another twenty minutes with X-Box, fifteen minutes on social media sites, 5 minutes to catch the latest music online or on iPods or more!

You may be surprised to learn only 14 percent of people on the planet have access to the Internet (source: United News Center). The majority of Internet users (90%) live in industrialized countries, so internet laggards beware.

Currently, electronic games and mobile devices are generally static – so one can draw parallel examples with perhaps reading which is also static. However there is a new breed of dynamic, interactive, multi-player and networking games on the horizon. These are enabled by new platform technologies, higher processing power, improved graphics, virtual worlds and location-based technologies.

Their role in helping the young to read should not be dismissed, as they do require different levels of reading to understand game rules, answer questions and figure out complex games. It’s easy and fun for kids to escape “this world” and loose themselves as they text, email, surf the web or simply turn on the TV. It is therefore no wonder that kids have short attention spans: they find reading a traditional paper book “boring” and a “challenge” to wade through 150 + pages of plain text.

The “want it all now” generation are growing up in very different times, where less is left to imagination and more is required from media, on demand. It is therefore a tough challenge to kick-start reading in a fun way, that will then hopefully develop a lifetime love to read books (be it via eBooks or on paper).

When faced with a new book or novel, kids may encounter unknown vocabulary, they may have no background on the subject they are reading, and perhaps, they have no choice as to what they can read – being instructed by teachers to read a certain book. If we compare this to their free or hobby time, kids have a choice on what they want to do, they plan when they can devote time to their hobby and they determine how hard they wish to make their particular pastime.

These ideals can be applied to the reluctant reader. By allowing them to make some of the reading decisions: what, when, where. The result will be a more motivated and energised child.

With these factors in mind, I have tried to apply a multi-media approach to my own book writing.

First, for the early reader (4-7 years old) I developed some fun, environmentally themed stories and offered these free on YouTube. The mini series: Radio Ron’s Rainforest Adventures are believed to be one of the first early reader books (with narration, sound effects and original music) to be placed on YouTube. The HD feature in YouTube, makes an ideal reading experience on computer, TV or mobile phone screen. With a more technology-savvy generation, it is an approach that has appealed to youngsters. The stories have been hosted on a variety of charity websites, around the world, including the Australian Orangutan Project.

I wrote the Radio Ron’s Postcards from Borneo series to raise awareness on the plight of orangutans who face extinction in the Borneo rainforests. I'm hoping this work will stimulate interest in this topic and encourage people to donate funds to orangutan charities.

Learning to read is one of the biggest milestones young children face. By offering a fun approach to early reading practice, I hope my work may encourage a life long love affair with reading and books (whether on an electronic screen or paper). And, at the same time, an interest in environmental issues. Radio Ron has been a true family effort with illustration and voice over contributions by my, then young, six-year-old twin sons; plus voice over, music composition and performance and video creation by my husband, Richard Arthur.

Clearly, motivation varies from child to child depending on their mood, health, etc. My second writing project set out to offer a cross curriculum approach – embracing English, history, geography and music, and also offering an online multi-media angle in addition to the book reading experience.

The result has been Venice Escape – Maria’s Golden Gondola Adventures, a junior fiction book aimed at 9 to 13-year-olds. I have found out that it is also being enjoyed by older folks. They report they are remembering long forgotten history and being excited by the notion of hearing and seeing music clips online!

Blending the dual themes of music and Italian luminaries, I created a whirlwind time travel adventure of a young girl eager to learn about the world outside her cloistered Venetian surroundings. This junior travel fantasy paints geography, history, music and adventure on the canvas of a light-hearted voyage of self-discovery for a young heroine.

Venice Escape also contains an appendix where readers can learn more about the Italian explorers and Vivaldi featured in the story. There is also a companion multi-media website with music clips for each instrument and musical style.

My free online resource has been developed to offer readers of Venice Escape an improved reading experience, and at the same time provide teachers with the opportunity to use this material to trigger cross-curricular discussions in their classes.

My hope is that the book will be used in schools to assist discussion on music genres/instruments, history and geography. Alternatively, young readers can simply enjoy linking to the music sounds and reflect back on how Maria would have enjoyed hearing this music for the first time.

In conclusion, I urge you all to take your kids to the library or review the latest range of eBooks online – and let them choose a fun title or gently recommend something new or a title you know is a winner. Curl up on your sofa, grab your chosen book and let your imagination escape with a fantasy novel tonight – it could be the start of a lifetime adventure, offering your child (and you) the enjoyment and pleasure to read.

Sandra provides early learning videos for children under six, teaching resources and music links to expand awareness on music styles. Head to her website for more on her new book and the resources she provides - SandraArthurBooks.com