From the beginning of the project we wanted to awaken a curiosity about reading in the participants, not in the sense of motivating them to read (although we trusted this might happen), but in the sense of encouraging them to reflect on reading practices and how they have changed in the last decades. As we have said before, our overall aim was to investigate this topic through the creation of a space in which to share experiences and reflections about reading. Starting from the students’ ‘Rivers of Reading’ (see entry from 9th December 2014), we talked about what ‘counts’ or doesn’t count as reading, particularly from the school’s perspective. We also spoke about the reading done by other family members, younger children and friends. We discussed ‘young adult literature’ and speculated about reading on screen, not only about books but also about the different texts generated by virtual social networks and also about the way in which other visual media such as film or videogames invite new forms of reading.
Once we were well into the project, we asked them to help us carry out interviews on the theme of reading. The idea was that they could claim a bit more ‘ownership’ of the project in this way and participate, not as subjects but as researchers. Participatory research with young people has become the theme for an increasing number of publications (for example, Alderson 2008; Kellet 2005 & 2011; Powers & Tiffany 2006) most of which stresses the importance of involving them in a way that the experience becomes significant for them (rather than being a token activity). In our case, we tried to achieve this even if it was only a small part of the overall project given the time limitations. Ideally the project would have been conceived from the beginning with the group of young people but this was not possible in this case. However, brief as the experience was, we consider it a small step forward in a context where the agency and voices of young people are not taken into account and, as we have said before, the balance of power is almost totally inclined towards the adults – whether they be teachers or researchers. In other words, this was a pilot attempt to show the potential that a more participatory approach can have (and which could also be easily adapted as a pedagogic strategy in the classroom, for example, for media studies).
To start the session, we reminded the students of the project’s objectives and we explained what the research process involved (collecting and analysing data, reaching conclusions, publishing and disseminating findings…). We then invited them to help us with the research by taking a more active role although we also asked them to take the activity seriously give it implied a greater level of responsibility and ethical conduct. They would have to design the interview questions in groups, supported by the researcher, and then each of them would interview someone they knew, over 18 years old. They would first have to explain what the project and the interview were about and obtain their permission. They all accepted the invitation and showed themselves surprised and intrigued by the idea, it was obviously something new for them to be considered as part of the “team” and, of course, they were also enthusiastic about using the mini-recorders.
There is no room to enter into detail here about the design of the questions but it must be said that the simple fact of having to decide what questions to ask and how, led to important conversations about the objectives, themes and expectations of the exercise and also about some ethical considerations. For example, the fact that not everyone knows how to read was raised but also that directly asking the question ‘Can you read?’ may be uncomfortable for some people. One group therefore decided to begin asking ‘Do you like to read?’ so that, as Rodrigo said, ‘they will not feel offended’. Another interesting discussion arose around a question suggested by Alma, ‘Where are you from?’, as her peers argued that this didn’t have anything to do with reading. Nevertheless, Alma persisted, ‘It may be that (in other places) there are different forms of reading books…’
The final lists of each group included questions related to preferences in terms of formats for reading (‘computer, tablet, mobile or physical book’) and also related to opinions about the changes in reading. The responses to this last question proved most interesting given that the range of age of those interviewed was between 18 and 70 years. For example, this was the response of a secondary school teacher aged 32 years:
Lucio: What do you think of how reading has changed since you were little or a young person?
I don’t know if reading has changed but what I have noticed is that now young people I think read a little bit more compared to when I was that age, I don’t remember having a single teacher in primary or secondary school that tried to foster the reading habit in me. However, as I come from a family of teachers, well I was always close to books and even then I don’t completely have that habit, sometimes because of lack of time, lack of interest, but I think that young people now are reading a bit more, perhaps not the books they should read, but they are doing it.
After asking the group questions, Lucio continued this interview, adding questions on his own initiative:
Has reading a book helped you keep going forward in your daily live, despite problems or adversities you have had?
If you could make a book, what would you like to put in it?
If you had the opportunity of telling a young person how to change their life, through a book, what book would you recommend to them to change their life?
Not only did we all learn from the responses but we also learned from the questions that the young researchers formulated.
Most interviews were too short for in-depth analysis and we did not really have enough interviews to be able to make any generalizations (there were also a few technical problems with the recorders). However, the range of ages did allow us all some insights into the differences between generations. For example, it was fascinating to know that The Iliad was the first book that a man of 69, a peasant farmer in the state of Morelos, remembered reading and this generated discussion around the reading of the ‘Classics’. But the most important thing about this activity was not the information that the young researchers obtained from their interviews but the fact that they became more active agents, more curious about and conscious of the theme that concerned us and that they felt their contribution was valued and would be part of the overall research project.
Alderson, P. (2008) Children as researchers: participation rights and research methods. In: Christensen P and James A (eds) Research with children: perspectives and practices. London: Routledge, 276-290.
Kellett, M. (2005) ‘Children as active researchers: a new research paradigm for the 21st century?’ ESRC National Centre for Research Methods, NCRM/003 www.ncrm.ac.uk/publications
Kellett, M. (2011). Engaging with Children and Young People. Centre for Children and Young People Background Briefing Series no.3., Lismore: Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University.
Power, J. L. &Tiffany, J. S. (2006) Engaging Youth in Participatory Research and Evaluation, Journal of Public Health Management & Practice 12 (6), S79 - S87. http://www.nursingcenter.com/journalarticle?Article_ID=676564