The Teen Reading project is working with secondary schools in WA, NSW, QLD and VIC to survey Australian teenagers about their reading behaviour. This research aims to better understand how teenagers choose, read and discuss books, to ensure that they are better able to find the books they want to read and to keep them reading for pleasure.
To learn more about the survey, you can watch this short video
During the January school holidays we ran a short range of focus groups with teenagers in South Australia and regional and urban Victoria. We asked participants about sources of book recommendations, where they access books and how their reading habits are changing.
Family members and school librarians overwhelmingly stand out as the main sources of recommendations (‘… my school librarian: she’s really nice and she sort of picks up what kind of book you might like’). The school library is also the main source for teenagers to get their hands on books. Most participants also share their views of the books they are reading in their local communities – with extended family members, school friends, and familiar adults.
Participants talked about reading in order to take ‘a break for my brain’, to relax and unwind before sleep, but also to fulfil their curiosity about the world, using examples of historical and political events that feature in fiction. They also read non-fiction, such as mechanical engineering and environmental science, in order to be better informed to do something. ‘It’s so I can improve the environment, my interactions with others, and the outcome of my life’. Some told us they only read when they were bored and ‘that’s the only thing I have got to do’.
But no matter their motivation for reading, what participants look for in a book was quite consistent. For fiction, it’s a compelling narrative, with a plot twist, and ideally some humour. For non-fiction, it’s books that tap into and help them to develop existing interests.
During August and September the team visited a further 5 schools for data collection – ranging from outer metropolitan to regional and rural centres.
This iconic Ballarat streetscape was one of our transit stops to a nearby school.
Distance from Melbourne certainly makes a difference to the culture and demographics of schools in former country towns. Some, like the mystery school whose carpark outlook features, draw pupils from a range of nearby population centres. Our outer metropolitan schools were the most notable for their mix of ethnicities, and more students from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Our final sample for the Teenagers Reading survey came in at just over 550 respondents. Just over half of these were female. The ages ranged from 10 to 18, with the bulk of the sample being 12-16 year-olds. Most listed the place they lived as “City (including suburbs)”, with 20% from small country towns or rural properties.
On Tuesday we visited our second Victorian school, this time in a rural district heading towards the South Australian border. This area lies in a lush, dairy farming area, and consequently, hard hit by the general difficulties facing that sector. The image above shows one of the Avenues of Remembrance that grace a number of small towns in this scenic area.
The school was one of Deakin’s Engagement and Access Program partner schools (DEAP). The aim of the DEAP program is to work with schools to build on students’ aspirations to generate awareness of the potential of a tertiary education for young people who might not previously have considered this. Place matters on many fronts, not least the distribution of school’s equity funding. While in other locations, closer to large regional or metropolitan centres, we’ve heard students recount their pleasure in visiting bricks and mortar bookstores, many young people in more remote areas might find that they are more likely to encounter paper books in large ‘marts’, as part of the family’s weekly shopping visit.
Our data collection in Victoria started with a visit to the chilly but wonderful Western Region. Obviously, for ethics reasons, we can’t identify the town or school, so the bucolic image of dam and rolling hills is my attempt to capture the feel of the day.
Many country schools service large regions, with hundreds of children coming in by bus every day from surrounding towns. The staff were very welcoming, and it’s wonderful to see the effect that passionate teachers can have, despite limited funds for literacy and other extension activities. The teens we talked to described some of the resources they use to find information about available reading material, including local bookshops and libraries, and even, in the case of one young man, a visit to a regional book event – though he wasn’t too sure whether it was going to change his established tastes.