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October 17, 2016

Fishing for Evidence: My research on fostering a love of reading in the digital age

As Elliott Eisner, a leader in education, once said, 'Our nets determine what we catch'. For me, that 'net' represents the aim of my research. I want to cast my net over the teachers of Ireland and capture their stories.

I created my 'net' as a practicing teacher in the classroom. At the end of each day, when both my students and I were beginning to wilt, I used to invite them to find a space in the classroom and read. On other occasions, I would perhaps read them the first chapter of a novel, to see how they liked it. On the days when my voice was weary, I would let the audiobook do the talking. Mostly, though, I used to do anything and everything I could to foster a love of reading in my class, especially where Harry Potter was concerned. My poor students had a Harry Potter Superfan as their teacher. They suffered. I used to say to them, 'Look the first two books, I admit, aren't great.' (I mean, who doesn't know the basic plot of Harry Potter?). 'But once you get to the third book, trust me, you'll be hooked.' Sometimes this worked. Those students who took on the Harry Potter challenge, who read the series, transformed as readers. By engaging in the multi-layered world of J.K. Rowling's creation, they became readers. They became readers, but not of books. They became readers of books, ebooks, audiobooks. They became writers, bloggers and fan fiction writers, and good ones at that.

At the time I didn't give this any thought really. It was only when I pursued an M.Sc. in Technology and Learning that I became aware of the net that I was crafting. Now that I have created my net, I want to capture Irish primary school teachers' stories about how they foster a love of reading in the class. I also want to know whether they use technology in their classrooms to foster a love of reading. So far, there has only been scant evidence of how teachers foster a love of reading in the digital age.

Many are of the opinion that technology has impacted on children's reading in a negative way. Of course, playing a Harry Potter game on a games console would have limited application in terms of reading development. But think of all the positives. Think of your average 6th class. Not all readers. Not all able to read perhaps. So how do we get those students, who may be unable to read the text, to read? In some cases, the answer is to take away the text. I vividly recall one such student. A reluctant reader, who just found reading difficult. I gave him the Harry Potter audiobook on an old iPod one of the other students had brought into class. He listened. He understood. Others read. Others understood. My reluctant reader could recall more of the layers of detail, as painted by J.K., than some of the other, better readers in my class.

For me, this is comprehension. More importantly, this is what reading 'is about'. For me, I wonder what reading 'is about' in this digital age, for other Irish primary school teachers? I want to understand how Irish primary school teachers in Ireland foster a love of reading in this digital age. For me, it's a question worth asking and I'm fortunate that Hibernia College shares my vision. I would not have been able to throw my net, had it not been for the Hibernia College Ph.D. scholarship that I received in 2014. Having gone beyond the half-way stage of my research now, I'm just as confident in the value of my research, so that it can inform fellow researchers, students, and my teaching colleagues.


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