Reading Or Nah?

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Junior Kylie Garrett says, “This year’s summer reading books were okay. I really liked The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, but Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer was just so boring, I couldn’t read the book, I ended up having to use Sparknotes.”

She is not alone. “The books usually just sit in my bag, a commitment to reading them makes me nervous,” said sophomore Courtney Dexter, who also dreads mandatory reading, “I usually don’t read them, but if I absolutely have to, I just skim through it.”

With more and more internet availablity nowadays, it’s easier for students to rely less on physical text and more on electronic book notes. Sparknotes, an online book notes tool, has become increasingly popular in today’s world, with more than 178,000 unique page view per day.

Originally created by several Harvard Students, Sparknotes was bought out by Barnes and Noble in 2001. Since then, it has become a huge website. According to Barnes and Noble representative Molly Zussman, who was interviewed by email for Carpe Diem, the site now boasts 120 Million unique hits per year.

According to a small survey, 7 out of 48 students stated that they prefer Sparknoting when forced to read an assigned book. When it came to reading free choice books for school assignments even less used Sparknotes. Only 2 out of 48 students said they still preferred Sparknoting.

In a 2011 survey of 238 students, columnist Chris Altonji measured students usage of Sparknotes. Out of the 238 Students, 79% of them stated that they use Sparknotes occasionally, if not more. 33% of them said that they use Sparknotes for every book.

Some English Teachers are feeling more than a little frustrated by the increasing popularity of Sparknotes and decline of eager readers. However, studies show students are still reading their actual books more than they Sparknote them. Perhaps Sparknotes should be considered a comprehension tool instead of one for cheating. Some teachers, like Ms. Barklow, have decided to provide more choice novels as a way of better engaging students in their reading.

“I feel a much greater connection to books that I’m reading when I’m allowed to choose what book it is,” said Garrett, “I’m much more likely to actually read the book if it’s something I actually like.”

41 out of 48 students surveyed at TA read their books when they were given the freedom of choice.

Some teachers feel that one way to respond to teenagers’ lack of interest in reading is to introduce enticing new methods of reading with hopes to increase engagement. While some English teachers have shifted to reading books on iPads, others stick to the old school book in hand. There are many varying opinions on which is more effective.

According to an August 2014 Guardian Article in by Alison Flood, reading on electronic devices results in lower comprehension than those who read on paper. “The researchers suggest that ‘the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle doesn’t provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does’.” This and other recent studies suggest that reading comprehension can be negatively impacted by iPads, Kindles, and other devices.

Flood reported that, “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.” While reading on electronics may be easier for some people, comprehension is impaired.

A recent discussion in one of Barklow’s Honors English classes found that many students prefer reading actual books to reading on iPads.

Junior Shelby Ross claims that “the iPads make me sleepy when I’m reading on them. I can’t stay focused long enough to actually read.”

English Teachers haven’t moved to ban Sparknotes, and it is still increasing in popularity with 10 Million new hits per month.

“It’s a nice tool, but it’s a crutch for students who choose not to read,” said Mr. Mitchell.

In a world where technology is evolving fast, Teachers are trying to adapt. New technologies are put into play. Websites like Sparknotes are easier to access. Some teachers stick strictly to physical books. With so many methods at the disposal of students, reading remains a critical ability in today’s world.

Zachary Vandermeer
Zachary Vandermeer

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Educating students for more than 200 years.