This past weekend, a presenter at the Keystone State Reading Association (KSRA) conference noted that we do not read "wide and deep" any longer. She cited recent studies demonstrating that the average American read only one book in 2015. I found a recent Pew study estimating that only 72% of Americans read at least one book over the span of a year. The Atlantic confirms that statistic and adds the number of non-book-readers has tripled since 1978.
So what does any of this have to do with an 8th-grade student? While how we read and write continues to evolve to include digital modes, and while adult models of reading and writing remain on the decline, adolescents and teenagers still crave acts of literacy.
In the first episode of my podcast with Jay, he shared some of his reading life as a child and some of his current habits on social media. However, I did not anticipate the shift in conversation where Jay shares how YouTube influences him as a writer:
"Your editing style can really make people recognize your video...you could recognize people [people] by their editing style...you really can recognize someone by their doing what they do..."
Jay shares that he watches Youtube How-to videos. This, of itself, is not remarkable. Many adolescents turn to YouTube to learn, socialize, and create. However, Jay told me that he can tell who made what video according to their editing decisions. While Jay may hear himself sharing a fluent part of the process of being a fledgling teenager, I hear an opportunity to help Jay grow as a writer who will make style decisions too (word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions).
And if I can help Jay grasp those concepts as a writer, then I know Jay will help others around him grasp those concepts. He will be able to mentor his classmates and writing partners through daily conferring and through synchronous collaborative editing...and collaboration is already in the bloodstream of many adolescents.
Jay and his friends collaborate on stories--acting them out--and it reminds me of Tom Sawyer running off into the woods to play at Robin Hood and pirates. As Jay talked about this active (physical) use the imagination he shifts to a memory of when he was younger and a friend gave him a notebook to write in. Jay tried to write a story about "a guy who went on funny, weird adventures."
Even though that story did not work out, Jay says he still thinks about writing while he reads in his room or even as he watches Youtube "I've thought about writing something...starting something of my own...that I could call my own..."
Jay's repeated referencing of YouTube reminds me of their banner statement: Broadcast Yourself. As Donald Graves knew, children do want to write. And just because children grow into busier adolescents and teenagers does not mean that they have to grow into disengaged adults. I do not know how to stop the current downward slide of literacy in America today, but I have an inkling that we can begin to shift the tide by encouraging young writers like Jay.
Encouragement is everything.