Books, Computers and Mobiles
We are all aware of generation Z problems – spending too much time in front of screens, not going out and completely forgetting about reading and its benefits. That’s why at Prva gimnazija Varaždin, one of the oldest grammar schools in Croatia, a project entitled Books, Computers and Mobiles (in Croatian Knjiga Komp Mob) has been established. Its main objective is to encourage teenagers to read and get insights into benefits of reading. Another aim of the project is to develop cooperation between grammar school students and middle school students.
On March 17, 2021 the students of Prva gimnazija Varaždin hosted a Zoom panel discussion for 50 students (age 14-15) from two different primary/middle schools, II Primary and VI Primary School Varaždin, (Croatia). Firstly, the students discussed their reading habits and then read a short story, “The Chained Elephant” by Jorge Bucay, which encouraged them to think more critically about reading.
STUDENTS AND THEIR READING HABITS
As moderators, the students of Prva gimnazija Varaždin prepared a number of questions and discussion points so the middle school students felt at ease and expressed really interesting views on books and reading. Majority of them think that reading is a good source of entertainment and some students believe that books help them to see different realities, different situations and learn about real-life problems. Some students believe that through reading they develop their imagination and reading books with complex characters helps them to understand people and society they live in.
“Exercise is for your body. Reading is for your soul and mind!” (Jakov, a middle-school student)
On the other hand, there are some students who would rather choose a movie or a TV show over a book. They simply think books are boring, take too much time and intellectual effort. When it comes to putting effort in reading and books, they state that if you like a book, you will automatically understand it better. It’s easier for them to read books they have chosen than the books which their teachers require them to read. The most popular titles which the students mentioned in the discussion are Harry Potter books, Percy Jackson series, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Hobbit, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel and Little Women.
READING AND BOOK REPORTS
The middle school students don’t like books that they have to read for book reports. However, they will still read them because they simply think those books have educational value and are important for many things such as vocabulary, writing and general knowledge. Books that are usually on the list for school reports are world-known classics such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Journey to the Centre of the Earth. The students pointed out that medieval and old Croatian books in general are especially hard to read because of an outdated style and unrelatable topics. What students prefer is a discussion and a debate about characters, plot and themes in the book rather than an ordinary presentation by a teacher or a student. It is interesting that most students believe that not reading books for reports is unacceptable. In addition, they claim that it is easier to spot who didn’t read the obligatory book when debates are held and they express their thoughts and opinions about the book.
“Sometimes I have difficult times with books I have to read for school, but then I remember all the benefits that I will get from it.” (Una, a middle-school student)
READING AND ITS IMPACT ON STUDENTS’ SOCIAL LIFE
Students in general don’t think that reading has an influence on their social life. However, the Zoom discussion showed that books and reading are quite often something that middle school students talk about in their free time. They tend to consider someone smarter if they read a lot. In addition, they get suggestions for reading certain books all the time – from family, friends, teachers. Some of them will read the recommended book just to make the person who suggested it happy. This also provides an opportunity for the exchange of opinions about the book . However, some students still think reading is a “torture” in a way and they will not read a suggested book because they prefer to talk with their friends about other things such as movies, series or videogames.
SHORT STORY DISCUSSION
After the initial discussion, the middle-school students read a short story, The Chained Elephant by Jorge Bucay. The story is about a circus elephant who was kept from running away. He was tied to a pillar. At first, he was too weak to escape, but as the time went by, he became strong enough to do so. However, he stopped fighting because he had realized that he had already adapted himself to his environment. The story stimulated a discussion about reading habits and possibility of changing them. The students expressed really insightful comments and lots of them recognized themselves in the story. They quickly connected the dots and understood the main message – it’s never too late to visit a library and start reading. The story and the discussion helped to develop new perceptions of books and the importance of reading not only for school but also in free time.
“Wow, I didn’t expect that! It’s touching and relatable! I will remember that story next time I’ll doubt myself!” (Hana, middle school student)
Most of the students who participated in the Zoom panel discussion had a very positive opinion on everything that was discussed. Everyone was very talkative and friendly. In addition, they were honest in expressing their views and admitted that their attitude to books, reading and reading habits could be improved. The grammar school students, who moderated the discussion, were pleasantly surprised with how mature, perceptive and open-minded the middle-school students were. Most importantly, both groups of students really enjoyed the discussion and concluded that that type of activities could be really motivating for improving reading habits and developing love for books and literature.
“If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.”
– J.K. Rowling
Written by Ana Strelec and Noa Planinc, students at Prva gimnazija Varaždin (1st grade)