Reading, Motivation, and the Hunger Games
As we near the release of the Hunger Games movie, the interest in the trilogy is spreading like wildfire. As a literacy educator, I’m excited that many young adults are reading the Hunger Games and that teachers are integrating it into the curriculum.
Previously, I’ve shared my ongoing research on adolescent literacy practices related to the Hunger Games. I’ve also talked about how fan culture can inform how teachers approach the novels.
In this post, I consider: what is the link between reading, motivation, and the Hunger Games?
In my research, I have talked with teens from around the world who are part of the Hunger Games fandom. For some of them, this trilogy is what sparked their interest in reading. Not only did it help them see themselves as readers, their active engagement in online fansites supported the development of other literacy skills, including writing and designing.
According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, recent years have seen a marked increase in the number of novels published for young adults, particularly in the science fiction and fantasy genre. This includes Harry Potter and Twilight as well as Divergent, Matched, Ashfall, The Knife of Never Letting Go, Uglies, Feed, Ender’s Game, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Rash, and many others. With these novels, which are often part of series, youth can engaged in the sustained reading of high-interest literature. While reading for pleasure is important for their social, emotional, and intellectual development, it also shapes their reading achievement.
When young adults read for enjoyment, it positively influences their performance on standardized texts, such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). In 2011, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that “a crucial difference between students who perform well in the PISA reading assessment and those who perform poorly lies in whether they read daily for enjoyment, rather than in how much time they spend reading” (p. 2). On average, youth who read daily for pleasure score the equivalent of 1.5 years of schooling better than those who do not.
Emergent research suggests reading achievement may also depend upon young adults’ interest in the reading text. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison (Steinkuehler, Compton-Lilly, and King, 2010) have found that teens who struggle with reading in school and read below grade level when assessed on academic texts actually read above grade level when assessed on high-interest, video game-related texts. Notably, there was a difference of seven reading levels based on the kind of text and the reader’s motivation.
If we know that reading achievement is linked to motivation and enjoyment, how has this translated into school-based practices? In the past decade, education policy has increasingly focused on high stakes assessment. In the quest to raise students’ reading achievement, educators are under pressure to teach to the test and use skill-and-drill exercises. As more and more states link students’ test scores to teachers’ evaluations and pay, the stakes have grown even higher. In the recent New York Times article, William Johnson shared his experiences as a “bad” special education teacher. He argues, “Worst of all, the more intense the pressure gets, the worse we teach.”
What happens to students’ motivation to read in such an environment? What happens to teachers’ motivation to be innovative, creative, and take risks? Both invariably plummet.
But what happens if we give kids access to high-quality, thought-provoking, and engaging books? What if we create the time and space in our classes for them to engage in critical discussion? What if we encourage students to choose how they will respond to literature, such as through creative writing, drawing, digital storytelling, or role playing? What if teachers use these texts, tools, and strategies as a way to build students’ literacy skills?
If the number of page views on Hunger Games fan sites are any indication, many teens are engaging with the Hunger Games in out-of-school spaces. If teachers decide to integrate the Hunger Games into the curriculum, I hope that they take a cue from fansites. Moreover, the kind of literacy practices evident in fan culture can readily extend to other novels and films. The Hunger Games is not unique in this regard, but I think it offers a compelling example of the link between literacy and motivation.
At the end of the day, young adults’ reading achievement, in large part, depends on their interest, their environment, and their access to quality literature.
Photo by KendraKaptures