#MondayBlogs Bringing literature back into social media zombies lives

In his fourth guest blog, James Wood discusses how we can use Social Media and digital interaction as a new platform for literacy development.

social media

In my last blog I talked about how interactive media might be effecting literacy skills and becoming a problem of addiction for people. Well, what if I told you that, in some ways, it could actually be very beneficial for literacy skills as well? The Dawn of the Unread series has a YouTube channel with over 50 videos that include ‘how to create a comic’, and the Nottingham essay series. The app includes games and competitions that inspire proactive reading in young people. Moreover, the social media presence of Dawn of the Unread on Facebook, Twitter, Storify, Tumblr and, most recently, on Instagram (thanks to placement student Connie Adams) aim to have a positive effect on literacy levels. In using a wide variety of formats and platforms, the project offers numerous access points to all types of readers. The instagram blogs, for example, have a small synopsis under each image, so that education operates in small incremental ways. Used constructively, social media can create gateways into reading.

Dawn of the Unread’s online comics are an example of how literature is increasingly being published online and utilises interaction to enhance learning and concentration on reading. This use of the online world to publish books and texts of all kinds is dramatically on the increase. Digital downloads are a massive part of authorship and publication now, and by encouraging this, writers can broaden their reach and develop their own audiences. The interactive world is a massive part of the future, so why shouldn’t authors use it to their advantage? It’s great for engaging people who don’t often read, to be pulled in by online publications that interest them. It’s becoming increasingly easy to share and publish online, as well as advertise.

However, as my last blog suggested, some interactive media is a hindrance for literacy development, such as those cat videos that feed us with a rush of Dopamine! So what can be done to social media so that it educates and develops literacy skills?

Well for starters, adding more educational posts to social media sites, or even creating a bespoke social media site could help better direct learning. There may be room within the market for a kind of hybrid educational tool that blends the principles of Google scholar… but on Facebook. This will give online users the chance to filter their social media experiences to make them more educationally beneficial.

Another way interactive media could be used to educate young people and develop their literacy skills, is through games. Large numbers of young people play computer games or own a gaming console. This entertainment system could be adapted online to create games that are perfect for learning yet fun, without making the player feel they are just for educational purposes. This is an idea that has already been experimented with, for example the Dawn of the Unread app originally used games to encourage reading and set readers tasks that sent them across the city. (Now this functionality has been stripped out and the app just provides information on the literary figures featured in the comic.)

Pokemon Go is a game that many young people enjoy and spend many hours on, and the reason for this is they get a sense of achievement when they catch and build up their collection of Pokemon. Well what if a game could be created that produces a sense of achievement in ticking off books that you have read, that the game or app recommends? To find out more about how gaming is beneficial for learning and literacy, follow scholar and author James Paul Mcgee’s work or read his book What Video Games Have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy.

Using rewards which still provide that rush of Dopamine is another way the interactive world can encourage reading. Like with games, social media websites could provide online competitions for young people, such as taking a photo of you reading a book in an interesting place, writing a 100 word short story in which the winner gets their work shared and published, or other incentives. Or how about the reward of reading itself? Social media could encourage reading by rewarding young people for finishing a book, and online software could work to match young people to their literacy skill level so that they enjoy reading and develop at the same time. I once led a year 7 reading scheme which aimed to do that same thing. After a book was read by a pupil, they did an online quiz which helped to tailor individuals to their literacy level, and I saw students more engaged in reading as they were rewarded with a sense of accomplishment when they finished a book and got to move up a grade in difficulty as well as being merited by teachers for doing so.

Another problem is books are ‘going out of fashion’. However, some books such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, have always been in fashion, why is this? Well, it appeals to young people and creates a fan base as well as a trend in itself. The more time we spend online, the more we turn to ‘trending’ topics in order to help direct our leisure and learning. By sharing pictures of yourself reading on social media sites this would help to normalise reading and potentially help to make it a more attractive option for leisure. The hashtag #Fridayreads on Twitter is one such way in which readers from around the world are able to share their favourite books.

friday

Dawn of the Unread editor James Walker uses #FridayReads to keep a record of books he’s reading and posts a favourite quote from the book.

By using some of these methods it might be possible to re-established reading on these digital platforms. Some sites are already starting to do this. The digital world offers an infinite array of distractions, all vying for our attention. Therefore, it’s important that we find ways of scaffolding learning to help direct younger readers. Social media is full of words, people write posts, and others read those posts, it could even be argued that people are reading and writing more than ever, albeit in byte-sized chunks. But what is the nature of what they are reading? In the opinion of some, the content of social media websites is not educational. As someone who has helped mentor pupils in schools, I believe that tailoring social media experiences to become more academic, yet fun, is really important for their intellectual and emotional development. Interactive media is a major part of today’s society, and so we should explore ways to harness this engagement to help develop literacy levels. Dawn of the Unread editor James Walker is so appalled at literacy levels in the UK he described them as “a form of child abuse” in the project manifesto. If you have ideas on how we can address this together, or want to respond to this or other posts, please leave a comment. We are always listening.

Further reading:

Advertisements

#Mondayblogs NTU’s ‘Students in Classrooms’ Mentoring Scheme

 

In this first of four guest blogs, Nottingham Trent University student James Wood shares his experience of mentoring in schools and why he believes this can help the development of literacy skills.

Nottingham is a city which has been struggling with literacy levels and attainment over the last few years, with many children in Nottingham living in relative poverty. According to Nottinghamshire County Council in 2014, 17.1% of children in Nottinghamshire were living in poverty. This means 27,920 children aged 0-19. Work needs to be done to help improve education and access to learning and literacy for pupils, and mentoring is a great way to do this.

Mentoring can be great for encouraging development in pupils through one-to-one sessions. By taking the time to privately mentor pupils, a great deal can be discovered about the way that individuals learn, and sessions can be tailored to help improve their skills, attainment and educational experience in a way that suits them best.

In the last few years Nottingham Trent University has set up a scheme in order to encourage pupil’s development in literacy, academic subjects and skills based development through mentoring in local schools. The mentoring scheme also aims to create an awareness of the benefits of higher education and encourage pupils to pursue university, apprenticeships, sixth form or college. I have been lucky enough to be a member of this scheme for the last two years.

Image result for mentoring students

Mentoring can help pupils to find out the best way for them to read, revise, work and learn. 

The scheme involves each mentor tutoring four pupils in local Nottingham schools for one hour a week each in a variety of academic and personal skills subjects. I have sessions in subjects such as CV building, dealing with stress, organisation, revision skills, speech skills, aspirations, higher education and GCSE topics.  Planning is required for each session to ensure it runs smoothly and meets the specific needs of individuals.

Through this scheme I have realised the importance of mentoring in education to schools and children’s development. And for good reason! Mentors from higher education backgrounds bring recent experiences of school life that are relatable to the mentee, allowing them to connect with their mentor better than with many teachers. University students understand the hardship of the current education system, as well as the life of a pupil, which is appreciated, as it reassures these young people that university students can relate to their situation.

However, some pupils may feel threatened by someone from university, they may see successful students doing a degree as a nerd or ‘one of those’. These pupils feel like they are very different to their university mentors and so may feel alienated. However, schemes such as Nottingham Trent’s ‘Students in Classrooms’ can help to promote the relationship and similarities between mentors from university backgrounds and mentees. I have mentored students with behaviour problems, something I have never had, but the pupils can relate to me in others ways, as I understand the pressures and stresses of school life. Through conversations with me they have hopefully come to realise how interesting and exciting university life is, often asking questions about what it is like to study a degree, the costs, what it is like to live on my own or pay rent, as well as how I got to university.

In schools there isn’t much time prioritised for developing non-academic skills. Instead, teachers tend to focus more on writing, reading, maths and scientific skills. Although teachers do improve pupil’s literacy skills, in certain cases teachers find it hard to encourage reading. Mentors, who are not constrained by performance statistics and the everyday pressures expected of a teacher, are able to offer support to pupils that goes beyond the curriculum.

Mentors can use their own experiences to suggest reading that pupils may enjoy, such as the Dawn of the Unread comic book series which isn’t on the curriculum, but which offers snippets into the lives of local literary figures, with the aim of encouraging pupils to go out and discover more about these writers for themselves.For example, I had one student who likes to write his own poetry and wants to write books, so I recommended he read some romanticist and modernist poetry as well as get some experience in what good literature looks like by reading Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Mentors can also pass on and demonstrate the skills they have developed and can use in everyday and working life, which will encourage pupils that reading a wide variety of books, is massively beneficial.

After two years of working in schools I firmly believe that mentoring can massively improve individual student’s attainment levels and literacy skills, as well as encourage reading. Therefore, I feel it is important and should be co-operated more into the education system, not just in Nottingham, but in other areas in which attainment and literacy levels are low, or access to satisfactory education is limited.

Image result for mentoring

FURTHER READING

Round-up: National Poetry Day, Comic Con and just good stuff

Untitled

If you’ve just stumbled across this blogging website for Dawn of the Unread, here’s the digested read: When the dead go unread, there’s gonna be trouble. Writers are returning from the grave in search of the one thing that can keep their memory alive, ‘boooks’. This is a campaign to raise awareness of local literary history and hopefully find a way to engage a ‘Youtube generation’ of readers who supposedly are no longer reading any more. We are also exploring the relationship between digital and print media and believe that these mediums can complement each other.

The literary figures who have graced our pages so far are: William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army and author of In Darkest England; Slavomir Rawicz, author of The Long Walk and a Polish prisoner of war who escaped a Siberian gulag in 1941; Charlie Peace, brought to life in a play by Michael Eaton at the Nottingham Playhouse and glorified in Penny Dreadfuls and the Police Illustrated News as Victorian Britain’s most notorious thief; the Gotham Fool, a staple of oral storytelling that dates back to the reign of King John and the inspiration for the fictional home of Batman; Byron Clough, a monstrous hybrid that brings together Brian Clough and Lord Byron; Alma Reville, aka Mrs Hitchock; and our current chapter, D.H Lawrence, the bearded mard arse who made it possible for us to all swear more freely. There’s plenty more to come too.

However, we soon realised that all of our figures were white and mainly male. To address this we have currently put a call-out for a BME writer to address why this is the case and to tell the story of those forgotten voices that never made it into libraries. The shortlist will be announced at our appearance at the Nottingham Festival of Words on October 19 when we will be presenting our own take on MasterBrainz, with Lydia Towsey our updated Magnus Magnusson.

Continuing this theme we have commissioned David ‘Stickman’ Higgins to address issues of BME history and heritage at WORD, Leicester as part of the National Poetry Day celebrations. Stickman said: “My mother came from Barbados and my father was of Irish descent. I have embraced my dual ancestry as an instinctive and intuitive vehicle for artistic expression. I have invested many years researching, developing and delivering the hidden voices of my African Caribbean/British identity.”

This event is in Leicester as we’ve been working in partnership with Everybody’s Reading, NHS, Bright Sparks and various other organisations to debate their literary history and see if our project can inspire other cities to explore their literary history. This is ace, but time to be a bit smug. I challenge anyone to prove there is a city with as rich a literary heritage as Nottingham…

Bookmarks

Dawn of the Unread is exploring the role of libraries and bookshops in creating awareness of the many stories that have been cut from the rough sandstone heart of Nottinghamshire. So far we have used a wide variety of styles in telling our stories that range from the iambic tetrameter to the gallows ballad. And we are putting our money where our mouth is. We’ve just paid for 6,000 bookmarks in support of three organisations we believe are integral in our literary battle: Five Leaves Bookshop, Page45 and the Nottingham City of Literature bid. If you want one, get to their shop on Saturday.

Finally, we’ve just sent out our school packs to every school in Nottinghamshire to try to engage ‘reluctant readers’ (13+) in our reading project. I will make the time to visit every single school and support them in whatever way we can. We’re hoping that showing small snippets into the lives of incredible people will inspire them to read and learn more. And if it doesn’t work, who cares. At least we tried.

For the diary

WORD! ‘DEAD LOCAL’ NATIONAL POETRY DAY – EXTRAVAGANZA! Thursday, October 2 – Leicester Adult Education College, Wellington Street, Leicester. 7pm

Nottingham Comic Convention, Saturday 4 October 2014, Nottingham Conference Centre, Goldsmith Street, Nottingham NG1 4BU

Game City – We’re doing a talk, just don’t know when or where yet. So keep tabs on their website.

Masterbwainz, Festival of Words, 19 October 2014, Old Market Square Nottingham 3-4 (Spoken word tent 2)