martes, 9 de diciembre de 2014

How much water does your “River of Reading” carry?

What place does reading have in your everyday life? How much do you read over a week? What type of texts? These were some of the oral questions we asked the young participants in the project. They replied that they read very little due to time spent on their other activities which include playing sports, playing with their phones or even working in their family’s shop at weekends. However, when we asked them to make a collage with all the types of texts that they read, they surprised themselves given it turned out they read much more than they thought. The visual exercise also encouraged a more creative response to the above questions, reflecting a sense of the fluidity with which we all move through the texts in our surroundings. This activity, called “Rivers of Reading” was originated and developed by academics in the area of literacy education (Burnard, 2002; Winchester, 2008; Cliff-Hodges, 2010). This strategy was also used successfully in a previous project, Journeys from Images to Words (McAdam et al 2014, see with students from primary schools in the city of Glasgow, to show how languages and literacy practices can be valued in a school with children from many backgrounds and cultures.

In Glasgow we found that the children included a great variety of texts, both from books and magazines as well as film, video and other multimodal texts. We carried out an analysis which grouped these texts into categories following some of the ones developed by Cairney & Ruge (1998) y Marsh (2004). We discovered that the largest category referred to the literacy practices whose objective was to obtain information, closely followed by the category related to reading for pleasure or self-expression (a more detailed analysis and conclusion can be found in the Final Report of the project, available for download from

Among the young Mexicans we also found a great variety of texts amongst which functional and entertaining ones and those engaged with for entertainment and pleasure stood out, as well as those that have to do with digital social media communication (Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram). Textbooks were mentioned in most of them too. We also found “self-help” books, magazines and the graphic novel they were all reading for the project (Justicia divina by F. Haghenbeck – see a previous blog entry about this book). They mentioned films, videos and song lyrics. Handwritten notes appeared, as well as a reference to love letters. On the other hand, recipes, nutritional information on food packages and labels on beauty products also form part of their daily reading.

The “Rivers” can also incorporate tributaries, that is, the literacy practices of other members of the family. In Mexico, where many young people still live in extended families, with several generations in the same house, we found tributaries with the reading of grandparents or cousins were also included. Through this activity, therefore, it is possible then to create a picture of rivers that interconnect and that reveal a fertile ground for research and pedagogy.

The activity allowed us to learn about the literacy practices that occur in the home without intruding into students’ houses. It also lead to conversation with the participants about the type of texts, particular titles, where they access them and what they got from them. It also invited us all to think about how reading practices change according to age or gender and what overall role literacy practices have in their lives.

Whether as strategy for research or for pedagogy, at the beginning of this activity it is important that the teacher or researcher creates their own “River” and shares it with the students. While it must be specified if the task is to take place over a day, a week or a weekend, it is important to clarify that the teachers’ is not the only possible model, each student should draw their river’s trajectory as they prefer. In Mexican project, both Evelyn and one of the librarians created their “River” and presented it to the students for comment. The students were then asked to carry out the task over a week. 

Evelyn’s “River of Reading”

Many of the texts mentioned by the students are overlooked or ignored by teachers and by the curriculum in general, which means opportunities for getting to know students’ literacy activities in more depth and to incorporate these into the classroom are wasted. The conversations about reading and texts that are familiar to students can enrich the work done with set texts in school. They can be used, for example, to work on intertextuality or to find out how digital activities can accompany a text (given that young people tend to know how to use this medium better than their teachers); for example, they can discuss the reviews that “booktubers” present on youtube or they can enter webpages or forums created by contemporary children’s or YA authors. They can analyze the language and images of commercials, posters or political slogans. The ingredients of food or beauty products can be used for an activity in the Chemistry class. Even when the material obtained via the “Rivers” is less for some than for others, a panorama of the whole group can be created, using lists or graphs by categories. Students can also consider the types of texts and reading that are missing from these lists. Finally, several “Rivers” can be created throughout the school year, showing how texts change or how reading interests can develop across a particular period of time.

In terms of research, Gabrielle Cliff-Hodges concludes:
… the idea of rivers of reading associates strongly with the narrative, temporal and historical; the idea of mapping the terrain of readership associates strongly with the sociocultural and spatial. For all these reasons, collage-making seemed to be a suitably thought-provoking research method to use. (p.188)

In terms of pedagogy, Julie McAdam and the rest of the team concluded:
The Rivers of Reading task is a useful way of promoting discussion about literacy practices at home and school. It allows children opportunities to connect their home practices to those of the school and it also provides teachers with valuable insights into the out-of-school interests of the children they teach, leading to more enhanced and culturally sensitive individual planning. The task increases awareness of what it means to read and can enable children to become more confident about the role literacy plays in their daily lives.
The results of this activity is also of obvious interest to researchers in the field and can offer both quantitative and qualitative data. In Mexico, our sample was not sufficiently large enough to reach any set conclusions or to make generalizations about literacy practices. The “Rivers” made by the students are similar in many ways but they also reminded us that they show a moment of encounter of time and space which is eclectic and idiosyncratic. In the case of our project, we are not concerned with presenting exact data but with showing some of the interior glimpses offered by this activity which illuminates that unique moment that is the act of reading.

Burnard, P. (2002) ‘Using image-based techniques in researching pupil perspectives’, The ESRC Network Project Newsletter, (5) pp 2-3

Cairney, T.H. and Ruge, J. (1998) Community Literacy Practices and Schooling: Towards Effective Support for Students. Canberra: DEET

Cliff-Hodges, G. (2010) ‘Rivers of reading: Using critical incident collages to learn about adolescent readers and their readership,’ English in Education, 44 (3)

McAdam, J. E., Arizpe, E., Devlin, A. M., Farrell, M., and Farrar, J. (2014) Journeys from Images to Words. Project Report. Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Marsh, J. (2004) ‘The Techno-literacy practices of young children,’ Journal of Early Childhood Research, 2(1) pp 51-66

Winchester, D. (2008) ‘Rivers of Reading.’ English Four to Eleven 33, Summer, pp19-21

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