How and to what extent can social intervention make a difference in boy’s reading motivation and skills at primary level?

1.    Introduction and Context

1.1      Context of the case study report

This case study is a post-hoc and ongoing action research analysis of an apparently successful reading club for primary school boys in an international school in Singapore. After the first year of operation – 2015/6, the club received positive feedback from teachers, parents and the members themselves. Drawing on the academic context of reading motivation, reading skills, and the role of social belonging in motivation and academic achievement, the study attempts to unpack whether the perceived success is grounded in verifiable data and if further analysis in combination with peer reviewed academic research can further improve practice and allow generalisation to other groups.

The importance of reading to academic achievement and the reciprocal relationship between reading motivation, ability, self-efficacy and skill is well documented (De Naeghel, Van Keer, Vansteenkiste, & Rosseel, 2012; Förster & Souvignier, 2014; Retelsdorf, Köller, & Möller, 2014). Alas, so too is the fact that boys persistently lag girls in reading level at every grade and are more likely to be reluctant readers or aliterate – able to read but not willing to do so (Hamston & Love, 2005; Loveless, 2015; Maynard, 2011; OECD, 2014; Retelsdorf, Schwartz, & Asbrock, 2015).

According to motivational research, belonging, or relatedness, along with autonomy and competence are considered basic essential ongoing needs. In the school context, belongingness correlates with student success, as students have a more positive academic attitude and are more engaged. But boys are less likely to have a sense of belonging (Dweck, Walton, & Cohen, 2014; Goodenow, 1993; Osterman, 2000).

The substantial body of literature on reading motivation, particularly as related to reluctant male readers can be summarized briefly as follows:

  • Extrinsic motivation in the form of physical, achievement or emotional rewards for reading is considered less effective in the long term than intrinsic motivation where reading is its own reward (Guthrie et al., 2007; Logan, Medford, & Hughes, 2011; Schaffner, Schiefele, & Ulferts, 2013; Stutz, Schaffner, & Schiefele, 2016).
  • Young students can gain social currency by “knowing stuff”, sharing books and reading however this diminishes around grade five as a result of peer devaluation of reading (Proctor, Daley, Louick, Leider, & Gardner, 2014).
  • Self-concept/efficacy – the belief in one’s own ability is usually overstated in boys and understated in girls and changes over time (De Naeghel et al., 2012; Förster & Souvignier, 2014; Klauda & Guthrie, 2015; Marinak & Gambrell, 2010; Retelsdorf et al., 2014). There are critical moments in this respect such as when students switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” (mid primary) and when reading load increases (upper primary) and low reading self-concept may result in work avoidance when students begin to avoid reading tasks due to low motivation and/or reading difficulties (Lee & Zentall, 2015).

1.2      School Context

The case study takes place at the primary school campus of an international school in Singapore with 620 students from Kindergarten to Grade 6. Up to a quarter of the students may be English Language Learners (ELL) and more than 40% of the students are bilingual. Student turnover in an international school can be up to 25% a year, making individualized longitudinal data collection difficult. The schools’ MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing, a computerised adaptive test of reading and mathematics (NWEA, 2016) mirrored global data (Loveless, 2015; Mullis et al., 2012; National Literacy Trust, 2012; OECD, 2014) in that boys lag girls in literacy at every grade while outperforming in mathematics.

At the beginning of the 2015/6 school year, the teacher librarian (TL) identified a number of ‘lost’ boys in grades 3-6 with little interest in borrowing books or reading. In response, a social club “Blokes with Books” (BWB) reading club was formed with voluntary membership led by a young male digital literacy coach with support in the background by the TL.

1.3      Case Study Purpose

The expected outcomes of this project are to reach a better understanding of a group of students as readers and to inform best practice going forward.  The label of “reluctant” by teachers, parents or librarians may mask a more complex interplay of factors including motivation, gender or other attitudes towards reading, (Love & Hamston, 2003; Martino, 2001; Mc Kenna, 1990) or underlying problems with reading skills, either as a result of teaching deficits or reading, learning or language issues (NEPS, 2012; Norton & Wolf, 2012; Scanlon, Gelzheiser, Vellutino, Schatschneider, & Sweeney, 2008; Silinskas et al., 2016; Zentall & Lee, 2012). The role of belonging to a social group as having a positive impact on boys at pivotal moments for reading and academic development is also a consideration (Osterman, 2000).

1.4      Case Study Questions

The main question is: “How and to what extent can social intervention make a difference in boy’s reading motivation and skills at primary level?” A number of sub-questions were designed:

  1. Is there any difference in reading progress between boys belonging to the BWB club and their peers?
  2. What is their attitude to reading and their self-concept as readers?
  3. Is there a difference in the number of books they read?
  4. Can digital technologies enhance reading experience or motivation for this group of students?
  5. How can the school best use data analytics to inform practice?

2. Methodology

2.1 Method and Participants

This was a qualitative, exploratory individual case study using data available from the school, supplemented by surveys, observations and interviews. The case study method is recommended where research is description, bounded, real-life with less control from the researcher and phenomena is studied in its context in order to develop theories or interventions and evaluate programs (Baxter & Jack, 2008; Gerring, 2004).

Participants were student members of the BWB club in September 2016 (n=24, ELL=3, all male, Modal age 10y0m, range 9y7m to 11y1m) and/or who had been members of the club since its inception in September 2015 (n=17). Where available, comparative data from all G5 students was used (n=71, ELL=9, male=36, female=35, Modal age 10y7m, Range 9y7m to 11y5m).

2.2  Data Collection and analysis

Prior to the study a consent form was provided to the BWB students’ parents (Appendix A, n=24), and the head of school was asked for permission do the case study and to use aggregated student data. Beside the survey and reading assessment data, comments of the BWB coordinator, teachers and parents were taken into account.

2.2.1   Reading ability

All mainstream (non-ELL) students from Grade one do in-class teacher-led reading assessments (RA) in September, January and April. A variety of benchmark tests are used so data were standardized to Lexile measures (Appendix E). Since the majority of the BWB students were currently in Grade 5 (n=24), it was decided to focus on the data of the 2015/6 Grade 4 cohort into Grade 5 in 2016/7 who were still at the school in September 2016. Students were coded as male (1) or female (2) and as being a member of BWB (BWB#) for the full year 2015/6 and start of 2016/7 (n=17) or just 2016/7 (n=6).

The second, comparative set of quantitative data came from the triannual NWEA MAP testing of all non-ELL students from Grades three to eight in mathematics and reading. The reading component includes a RIT (Rasch unit) score for the whole school by grade, by gender (Appendix G). Individual reports include an equivalent Lexile range and a growth rate compared to a growth projection.

Using both the RA and MAP test results, BWB students’ progress could be tracked over the years using two different test measures and also be compared to their peers.

2.2.2    Attitude and self-concept

The Elementary Reading Attitude (ERA) survey as adapted by Jung (2016) to measure effects of masculinity on motivation (Appendix B) was administered (n=23) during a BWB meeting by the coordinator. All G5 students took a reading self-concept survey “Me as a Reader” (MAAR) either in class or at home, using the nine self-concept questions from the MRP-R test (Malloy, Marinak, Gambrell, & Mazzoni, 2013) – Appendix D.

The ERA and MAAR survey results were rated on a Lickert scale with scores of one to four given for least positive to most positive responses. ERA questions were identified as either reading attitude or male reading attitude related (10 questions each). Statements were then ranked in order of most to least favourable to make inferences on student attitudes (Appendix C). Likewise, students were given a total “self-concept” score based on their responses.

2.2.3    Reading Volume and digital technologies

Library circulation statistics were downloaded from the Follett Destiny library system. Lesson plans and attendance sheets were available on a shared google drive and informal observation and documentation by photo and video was also done.

3.   Findings and Discussion

Parents and teachers were very enthusiastic about the effect of the club on students (Appendix L). It would appear that this school-wide club was more effective in meeting student social belonging needs and motivating them to read than efforts in individual classrooms. It is a non-threatening, non-pressurized environment that emphasizes books and reading as a pleasurable dynamic social activity rather than individual and silent (Studlo, 2016). According to the school counsellor, the BWB club complements the social-emotional work done with some of the students (Upston, 2016).

3.1      Reading Progress

According to a reading assessment data comparison between September 2015 (or first assessment date for new students) and September 2016 the following can be summarised:

RA Improvement All Girls Boys BWB 15/16
>15% 32 14 18 11
7-14% 4 2 2 0
0-6% 10 3 7 4
Negative 8 4 4 1
No Assessment / New 17 12 5 1
Total 69 31 38 17

Table 1: Reading Assessment Improvement September 2015-6

Although reading assessments are subjective, and results may depend on the individual teachers’ interpretation of the test and knowledge of the particular student being assessed, the data clearly shows that participation in a social reading club has a significant effect on reading progress. More than half of the boys showing improvement in reading were a member of BWB, most of them making a significant improvement (more than 15%). In the case of the BWB students who did not make an improvement, teachers thought further investigation needed to be undertaken to understand if there are underlying reading or language skill issues.

A longitudinal overview of the MAP RIT reading scores from Grade 3 to 5 for the whole school shows an interesting anomaly as the boys’ score exceeds that of the girls in September 2016.

  Gr 3 Gr 3 Gr 3 G4 G4 G4 G5
  Sep-14 Feb-15 May-15 Sep-15 Feb-16 May-16 Sep-16
All 196.1 202.4 204.6 206.0 209.9 213.4 214.4
Girls 197.0 202.7 204.0 206.8 210.7 213.9 213.7
Boys 195.3 202.1 205.1 205.3 209.1 212.9 215.0
BWB Average 197.3 207.5 204.4 206.4 213.4 214.2 214.5
NWEA 189.9 194.6 199.2 197.7 202.5 205.9 205.7

Table 2: MAP RIT scores 2014-2016

The average improvement of the BWB includes some individual variation:

MAP Improvement All BWB 15/16 BWB 16/17
7-14% 5 3 2
1-6% 11 7 4
0% 4 4 0
No Assessment / New 4 3 1
Total 24 17 7

Table 3: MAP score improvement

Although improvements are seen, they are not as substantial as those of the RA, so a detailed comparison was made for the BWB students, for whom all data was available.

# Students
Not tested 3
MAP ≅ RA 10
MAP < RA 4
MAP > RA 7

Table 4: MAP Lexile vs. RA Lexile for BWB students

As can be seen in Appendix I, compared to the MAP testing Lexile results, RA results varied with consistent bias. Discussion with individual teachers indicated lack of training and experience, time pressures and unreliable or absent data from prior years as significant factors impacting on the reliability of their data points.

3.2      Attitude, motivation and self-concept

Overall the students had a more positive attitude towards reading than to reading as a masculine activity. Drilling into the scores of specific students, struggling readers had a more negative attitude to reading than more successful readers, highlighting the importance of success in motivation (Allington, 2002).

Attitude score as % of 80 Overall Reading Masculine
Low < 65% 4 3 7
Medium 66-79% 13 7 7
High >80% 6 13 9
23 23 23

Table 5: Reading Attitude score

As can be seen below an analysis of the scores of individual questions yielded some interesting results. Students particularly liked it when a favourite author wrote a new book, and going to the library / bookstore was also highly ranked. In contrast, having to read in what they considered “their time” either during vacation, at playtime or in their free time at home was not appreciated. The results echo the findings of Martino (2001), that reading is devalued as a passive practice particularly when there are active hetero-masculine alternative activities (Frank, Kehler, Lovell, & Davison, 2003). The club focus on lively action related activities that increase exposure to books and genres (see lesson plans – Appendix K), rather than silent reading, to play into this need.

Since reading during the vacation ameliorates summer learning losses (Allington et al., 2010; Downey, von Hippel, & Broh, 2004; Hilsmier et al., 2014), and volume of reading predicts success (see next section) ways need to be found to make this more enticing (Shapiro & Whitney, 1997). Because reading during school time, either in class, during silent reading or free school time appears more acceptable, and this is more controllable by the school, the onus is on making it as effective as possible (Allington, 2002; Damber, Samuelsson, & Taube, 2012; Scanlon et al., 2008).

Q # Topic – reading attitude Score
14 Favourite author writes a new book 88
6 Going to the library 81
10 Going to a bookstore 79
17 Time for reading at school reading 78
13 Going to the bookfair 77
1 Reading in your free time at school 76
9 Reading different kinds of books 71
2 Reading in your free time at home 70
18 Reading on vacation 59
5 Reading instead of playing 49

Table 6: Reading Attitude Ranking

Male leaders (the Obama effect?) and grown men were seen to have a positive attitude to reading; male athletes aren’t seen in the same light. Ironically students enjoy it when other boys do book talks and make suggestions, but are loath to do so themselves, or to be seen reading during their free time.

Q # Topic – masculine attitude Score
20 Male leaders feel about reading 77
16 Grown men feel about reading 76
4 Other boys tell you about books they’ve read 73
12 Other boys give you suggestions about what to read 70
8 Other boys your age feel about reading 67
19 Male celebrities feel about reading 67
11 Older boys feel about reading 64
7 Other boys see you reading in your free time 58
3 Telling other boys about books you’ve read 55
15 Male athletes feel about reading 53

Table 7: Masculine Attitude Ranking

This would appear to indicate that the current spontaneous trend of voluntary book talks at the start of the BWB sessions is a positive development, as are their virtual recommendations on the BWB page of the online learning platform (OLP).

Looking at students’ self-concept as a reader would appear to confirm the gender bias of ability over-estimation by boys and under-estimation by girls (Marinak & Gambrell, 2010). But four of the five boys with a low self-concept were members of the BWB club and merit further investigation. For detailed data see Appendix D.

Self-concept as a reader All Girls Boys BWB
Low:         20-25 14 9 5 4
Medium:   26-31 38 18 20 13
High:       32-36 17 7 10 6
Absent 2 1 1 1
Total 71 35 36 24

Table 8: Self-concept as a reader comparison

3.3      Reading volume

Reading volume is an important predictor of both reading success and motivation (Damber et al., 2012; De Naeghel et al., 2012; Lee & Zentall, 2015; Schaffner et al., 2013; Smith, Smith, Gilmore, & Jameson, 2012; Stutz et al., 2016). Looking at the circulation data of students that generally shows an increase, only shows part of the picture, as students may have access to books at home or through the classroom or public library and not need to rely on the school library. Also, borrowing a book doesn’t guarantee that it is read. From the available data we can see the following:

  2014/5 to 2015/6 2015/6 to 2016/7
New students 4 2
Increased borrowing 12 18
Decreased borrowing 7 5
Total 23 25

Table 9: Reading volume – number of students per category

Number of books borrowed is not always a good indicator of the quality of reading. Decreases in number of books borrowed in some cases were due to mainstream and ELL students tackling longer and more advanced books. More concerning, for a few students the decrease appears to be the result of reading difficulties related to skills rather than motivation that need to be addressed separately.

3.4      Use of data analytics

One of the strengths of data analytics is that the amalgamation of large number of data points can show broad trends in an entire population. However drilling down to individual cases, particularly where subjective input created data, threw up inconsistencies as was seen in the analysis above. The problem with the current form of reading assessments is that they are subjective, missing data, use different standards and benchmarks and are cumbersome to use to extract and compare longitudinal data (Kame’enui et al., 2006).

While each piece of data is interesting in itself, this research would suggest in the case of multivariate phenomena such as reading, the combination of different types of data would improve its predictive and signalling power. An attempt to do this and incorporate the use of ‘warning’ parameters is seen in an extract below (full data in Appendix J). Parameters could be weighted according to their predictive ability and action taken accordingly. For example, that students with the most tags are monitored carefully with the involvement of the school counselling team, while the next group are flagged to their class teachers and receive a form of reading recovery and an eye is kept on others.

BYB # ERAS R ERAS M MAP Lexile MAP Δ GvP* RA Lexile Ave Circ 15/16 Ave Circ Aug-Sep 16 Self Concept # Tags
1 18 19 522 1% > 550 7.4 1.3 20 7
2 21 26 612 4% > 650 1.4 2.7 5
13 33 29 738 0% > 750 4.1 2.0 29 4
9 29 30 846 3% > 700 2.0 2.7 29 4
24 856 6% < 750 4.1 4.7 25 4
16 33 30 882 0% < 750 4.7 8.0 28 4
21 37 35 594 6% < 750 4.9 9.3 30 3
11 28 33 702 0% > 750 11.0 10.7 26 3
22 39 35 720 0% > 700 9.0 8.0 27 3
23 225 2.9 4.0 27 2
Criteria ≤ 25 ≤ 25 <900 ≤ 1% < <900 ≤ 3 ≤ 3 < 25

Table 10: Criteria combined warning tags

3.5      Role of digital technologies

Although students generally do not appear to enjoy reading digital books, one form of digital integration that has had success is the combination of print and digital in one of the books read communally in the club in 2015/6: “Adventures of a Kid Magician” (Flom, Flom-Hill, & Blom, 2015). Careful reading of each chapter unlocked the key to access a video showing a magic trick. Both the students and teacher in charge thought this to be an ideal integration and expressed a wish for more books of this nature. Interactive eBooks show promise in motivating students in leisure reading (Colombo & Landoni, 2014).

Photo 1: BWB member book recommendations


Photo 2: October break reading Challenge


From September 2016 the club had its own page on the new OLP, and boys were encouraged to add book reviews. Between 9 September and 6 October, boys contributed ten reviews on the platform. Within two days of a 14 item vacation reading challenge being announced, (with a prize of an exclusive viewing and borrowing of all new books received after the autumn break) 11 students had attempted one or more of the items and two students had completed the whole challenge.

4. Recommendations

4.1      Reading Progress

Reading progress or growth is a function of initial reading status, velocity and acceleration (Williamson, Fitzgerald, & Stenner, 2014). Each of these can be influenced through deliberate policy and practice. Initial status by early-intervention reading programs, velocity by increased deliberate practice and velocity by ensuring all year reading exposure, i.e. including vacation time, and systematically anticipating and compensating for moments of decreased social motivation, self-concept and work-avoidance discussed in section 1 above. This would require buy-in and effort from the whole school learning ecology including leadership, teachers, students, and parents. Feedback from parents appeared to indicate lack of awareness of the respective roles of home and school, so further parent education seems to be in order.

4.2      Attitude and Motivation

Consideration should be given to annually administering a validated test that signals recreational and academic reading motivation incorporating self-determination theory to students from Grade 3. In this way students at risk of aliteracy can be identified. Activities that position reading as a fun, collaborative social activity outside the classroom should be encouraged. Ways to enhance the appeal of summer/vacation reading need to be investigated.

4.3      Reading Volume

A library / classroom based alert system needs to be set up to identify students who need more assistance with finding the right book. Further work can be done on comparing student reading levels with library / class library collection data as a tool for collection development to ensure provision of interesting, relevant materials in student’s proximal reading zone (Williamson, 2015). Successful reading should increase reading motivation, volume and progress further (Stenner, Burdick, Sanford, & Burdick, 2007).

4.4      Data Analytics

Data in the form of MAP tests and RA needs to be compared and correlated in order to identify trends on a school-wide scale, but also to drill down to specific classes, grades and individuals to find any inconsistencies and comparative bias between teachers or grades or benchmarks used, such as were identified in this study. Teachers need better training in the tools, and follow up on missing data or discrepancies should be made in a timely manner. Students identified as being at risk based on a combination of markers including reading motivation and self-concept, volume of reading and reading growth need to be closely monitored with action taken to increase the velocity of reading gains or avoid deceleration on time.

It is suggested that a system be put in place, with thresholds for each criteria as suggested in the analysis above. Students can then be given a score for number of “warning tags” and follow up arranged accordingly.

Finally, although the school is above NWEA norms, at each grade level, caution should be exercised as to what benchmark is used given the socio-economic and education level of the school community – for example, Williamson (2015) suggests a Lexile of L925 would be appropriate for beginning G5 students but at present only 28 out of 62 non-ELL students meet a benchmark of L900 – although some of the non-ELL students may have been ELL at some point in the previous years, and therefor had a lower initial status.

4.5      Digital

Instead of waiting for authors or other providers to create print and digitally integrated books, our students could be encouraged to supplement their favourite books with digital content on the OLP. This would transform students from being digital consumers, to digital creators – one of the learning goals of the 21st Century learner (Ito et al., 2013; Kalantzis & Cope, 2015; Rickard, 2014). Students with reading skills or learning difficulties should be encouraged to explore read-along and audio books to reap the benefits of audio such as improving comprehension, fluency, reading accuracy and motivation (Audio Publishers Association, 2016).

5.   Conclusion

For most participants, this specific social intervention made a difference in boy’s reading motivation through enhancing their sense of social belonging and “masculinizing” reading activities. For most of those in the club since September 2015, reading skills improved at a rate higher than predicted by Lexile growth rate models, and higher than their peers, probably due to higher quantity and quality of reading.

One of the issues with this intervention is its scalability and reliance on key-personnel. At the moment the club has grown to its limits of 30 students, an additional staff member is helping during the meetings, and there is a waiting list of students. Although it has helped a group of students, more integrated school-wide, permanent solutions will need to be sought that benefit all students that involve the predictive ability of combining various indicators of reading motivation, self-concept and skill with reading for pleasure as a social activity and allowing timely rehabilitation where necessary. The predictive ability of combining reading assessments, MAP testing, motivation and self-efficacy surveys to identify at risk students needs to be investigated further on larger populations.

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Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., Drucker, K. T., International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, & Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Eds.). (2012). PIRLS 2011 international results in reading. Chestnut Hill, MA: IEA, TIMSS & PIRLS, International Study Center, Lynch School of Education, Boston College.

National Literacy Trust. (2012). Boys’ reading commission. National Literacy Trust. Retrieved from https://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/4056/Boys_Commission_Report.pdf

NEPS. (2012). Effective interventions for struggling readers. National Educational Psychological Service. Retrieved from http://www.education.ie/en/Education-Staff/Information/NEPS-Literacy-Resource/neps_literacy_good_practice_guide.pdf

Norton, E. S., & Wolf, M. (2012). Rapid automatized naming (RAN) and reading fluency: Implications for understanding and treatment of reading disabilities. Annual Review of Psychology, 63(1), 427–452. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100431

NWEA. (2016). Accelerate Measure student progress with MAP for K – 12. Retrieved 12 September 2016, from https://www.nwea.org/assessments/map/

OECD. (2014). Reading performance (PISA). OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/reading-performance-pisa/indicator/english_79913c69-en

Osterman, K. F. (2000). Students’ need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70(3), 323–367. https://doi.org/10.3102/00346543070003323

Proctor, C. P., Daley, S., Louick, R., Leider, C. M., & Gardner, G. L. (2014). How motivation and engagement predict reading comprehension among native English-speaking and English-learning middle school students with disabilities in a remedial reading curriculum. Learning and Individual Differences, 36, 76–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2014.10.014

Retelsdorf, J., Köller, O., & Möller, J. (2014). Reading achievement and reading self-concept – Testing the reciprocal effects model. Learning and Instruction, 29, 21–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2013.07.004

Retelsdorf, J., Schwartz, K., & Asbrock, F. (2015). ‘Michael can’t read!’ Teachers’ gender stereotypes and boys’ reading self-concept. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 186–194. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037107

Rickard, R. L. (2014). Wimps, dorks, and reluctant readers: Redefining literacy in multimodal middle grade diary books (Master Dissertation). Eastern Michigan University, Michigan. Retrieved from http://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1943&context=theses

Scanlon, D. M., Gelzheiser, L. M., Vellutino, F. R., Schatschneider, C., & Sweeney, J. M. (2008). Reducing the incidence of early reading difficulties: Professional Development for classroom teachers versus direct interventions for children. Learning and Individual Differences, 18(3), 346–359. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2008.05.002

Schaffner, E., Schiefele, U., & Ulferts, H. (2013). Reading amount as a mediator of the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic reading motivation on reading comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(4), 369–385. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.52

Shapiro, J., & Whitney, P. (1997). Factors involved in the leisure reading of upper elementary school students. Reading Psychology, 18(4), 343–370. https://doi.org/10.1080/0270271970180402

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Smith, J. K., Smith, L. F., Gilmore, A., & Jameson, M. (2012). Students’ self-perception of reading ability, enjoyment of reading and reading achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(2), 202–206. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2011.04.010

Stenner, A. J., Burdick, H., Sanford, E. E., & Burdick, D. S. (2007). The Lexile Framework® for reading technical report (Technical Report). Durham, NC: Metametrics. Retrieved from https://lexile-website-media-2011091601.s3.amazonaws.com/resources/materials/Stenner_Burdick_Sanford__Burdick-_The_LFR_Technical_Report.pdf

Studlo, T. (2016, October 5). Perceptions on the effectiveness of the ‘Blokes with Books’ club.

Stutz, F., Schaffner, E., & Schiefele, U. (2016). Relations among reading motivation, reading amount, and reading comprehension in the early elementary grades. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 101–113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2015.11.022

Upston, G. (2016, October 7). Social dynamics and the ‘Blokes with Books’ club.

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Williamson, G. L., Fitzgerald, J., & Stenner, A. J. (2014). Student reading growth illuminates the common core text-complexity standard. Elementary School Journal, 115(2), 230–254. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.csu.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=99417740&site=ehost-live

Zentall, S. S., & Lee, J. (2012). A reading motivation intervention with differential outcomes for students at risk for reading disabilities, ADHD, and typical comparisons: ‘Clever is and clever does’. Learning Disability Quarterly, 35(4), 248–259. https://doi.org/10.1177/0731948712438556


Not included in order to protect privacy of school and students



In finding the middle way

Robinson, W. Heath (William Heath), 1872-1944 (illustrator). Black and white illustration in Hans Andersen's fairy tales (1913) London: Constable. - in public domain

Robinson, W. Heath (William Heath), 1872-1944 (illustrator). Black and white illustration in Hans Andersen’s fairy tales (1913) London: Constable. – in public domain

I recently read a beautifully illustrated version of “The Emperor’s new Clothes” with my Grade 2 classes during their library period. I can’t but help feeling like that little boy all the time, first astonished and puzzled whether I’m the only one to notice that there are no clothes, then worried that my vision is inadequate to see, and then when I shout out “the emperor has no clothes” my cry is not caught up and echoed, but rather people turn or face down in embarrassment as if it were I caught naked in a public place. And so I began this course with a niggling sense of frustration in being an education professional and learner in a digital environment.

In my life-long learner / doing a distance education degree I’m frustrated by how ‘same old same old’ it is – what is given on the one hand – the convenience, the asynchronicity, the ‘flat world’, the connectivity, the access, is taken away on the other – the lack of intimacy, the limited discussions, the moving along at a clip, the lack of storming and norming and emphasis on performing (Carabajal, LaPointe, & Gunawardena, 2003). But I realize that it is the same as what Churchill said about democracy in 1947 “it is the worst form … except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”

I have to stay positive, must stay open to ideas and alternatives. I have to look to people who are chipping away and making a difference, like our colloquia guests – Pip Cleaves, Annabel Astbury, Simon Welsh and Rebecca Vivian. I must remember that Rome was not built in a day, that this life is lived in beta. And things that annoyed me in this course (like the late introduction of VoiceThread) are in fact things that I am now trying to introduce to my school, in this case during the Global Read-Aloud, and I’m being met with the same skepticism that I gave myself – the irony.

The case study has allowed me to become more knowledgeable and versed in a topic that I had a superficial understanding of. And again that frustration, that when initiating the topic – I did not know what I did not know – the anosognosic’s dilemma (Morris, 2010). As a result I perhaps did not ask the “right” questions, use the “right” survey, the “right” analysis. In the process I increased my knowledge, but the purpose was not to summarize what I now know, which is the beginning point of any expert in the field. It was to further knowledge by examining something through the case study method. I think I am now understanding how reading reluctance can be seen through a variety of lenses. I’m understanding the profound effect of unconditional fun on enjoyment, motivation and the desire to improve – and my wariness of data-analysis has been vindicated to a certain quantifiable extent.

My wish for myself for the future is that I can both relax and be vigilant. Accept imperfection as I strive to be the best version of myself as an educator and to bring that out in my students, but in a joyful fun way. The middle way.

Image from: http://lisacongdon.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/brave_quote45_lowres1.jpg

Image from: http://lisacongdon.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/brave_quote45_lowres1.jpg



Carabajal, K., LaPointe, D., & Gunawardena, C. (2003). Group development in online learning communities. In M. G. Moore & W. G. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of distance education (pp. 217–234). Mahwah, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Morris, E. (2010, June 20). The anosognosic’s dilemma: Something’s wrong but you’ll never know what it is (Part 1). Retrieved 4 February 2014, from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/the-anosognosics-dilemma-1/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1


Permission to be frustrated?

4526365513I’m having a real hard time accepting the fact that the rest of the world doesn’t revolve around my research results! What are they thinking! In my mind I have some extremely small asks. Tiny surveys that won’t take more than 2/3 minutes of people’s time. Getting things on time. Or at all. And above me, around me I have this feeling like there is an enormous clock ticking ticking ticking.

Working 7 days a week doesn’t really help because it means there is no down time. My weeks are too busy with work and the daily everythings so I’m packing all the research into the weekends and occasional evenings.

I have to keep reminding myself that I need to be thankful for the 1/2 of students who did reply not be annoyed with the 1/2 who didn’t. To be happy with the teacher who DID have her students do the survey in class not cross with the other 2 who sent it home for them to do when they had time (duh.. as if any student would ever do it then?)  I’m just mega frustrated as these are the bits that are preventing me from getting to a draft stage because there is just not enough data to make the comparisons and conclusions I want to make. I’m just glad I’m not writing this for a peer review journal because I can poke holes a million miles wide into my research at this point and I’m not satisfied.

Do I take the weekend off? Will that make it worse or better? Maybe it’s time for a list of the gaps, and some editing of what I have.


Graphical lies and semi truths

I’ve been geeking out a little with some data in the last 24 hours, looking at the circulation stats of my blokes for the last 2 years plus the last month.  Glancing through the table leads to the conclusion that they are in fact borrowing more books – I know that doesn’t necessarily lead to more reading, but I also know that just having books around is a good thing.  One of the issues is that inherent in international schools is the fact that students come and go. Most of our students have been here for the last 2 years, and a few entered mid-way – so I averaged the monthly book borrowing by assuming 8 months of school (yup, we’re off for 16 weeks of the year), and then apportioned appropriately. (Note 2016/7 data needs to be updated at end of September to give the full 1.5 months).bar

But no-one likes looking at a table of data, so how to get this into a graph?  Now even a 3rd grader would (hopefully) be able to tell you that discrete data = bar chart.  So that leads to this:

That kind of shows you the picture – that the green bars are generally the highest (although maybe I need to invert the colours).


Now, let me show you another picture. This time I am quite incorrectly showing you a line graph.  Why is it wrong – well because a line graph is to show the relationship between two sets of values, with one set being dependent on another. Well, as each point is a different child’s reading,  and one child’s data has nothing to do with another child’s data, so obviously a line graph is nonsense. Except for the fact that it much more clearly shows that students have increased their borrowing since they’ve joined BWB. Quite wrong, but more graphically. I’ve been even linemore deceptive by ordering the data by number of books by date (mainly because the first 6 boys were not at the school in 2014/5 and the next 3 not last year so it made things look more confusing if I didn’t order it.

The next graph is even more pretty but it’s wrong wrong wrong and very deceptive – because I used a “stacked line” it’s no longer showing the boys who they read less than the previous year (s) as I’m adding up their reading over time.

No wonder they say “lie, damned lies and statistic” – maybe they need to add “graphs” to that one.

stacked-lineMore problems with this type of data – it tells you about the quantity, but nothing about the quality of what’s being borrowed. If I drill into various circulation histories I see a lot of “churn” of graphic novels. I’m assuming the lads who’ve read 15 or 20 books in the past month are reading nearly one book a day. That’s assuming they’re reading them. In fact one of the boys who seems to be borrowing and reading less is the boy who is tackling much more sophisticated literature and longer books.

Which shows just how individualised one’s approach needs to be to students, and data, and even goals and aims.  I like to think I’m employing a “bait and switch” tactic in the long term – I wonder if that can be quantified? Thinking aloud – if my books were lexiled and I could for each child see a lexile trail that gets stronger over time … unfortunately wishful thinking at this point as our books aren’t lexiled. I’m wondering if any longitudinal research has been done in this respect? I was watching a demo of Scholastic’s Literacy Pro yesterday and maybe that’s influencing my thinking. Because once you’re in that kind of program the program in itself corrupts the data by only feeding the student books in their lexile range, so you have animals in captivity rather than in the wild, if you see what I mean.

Now to see what the reading data tells me, and to see if there is any way to tie it all together in a pretty picture.  I need a spare mathematician to guide me through this – first year university stats is just not going to cut it I fear!


Reading reluctance – factors

Writing a case study with 3,000 words of which 80% are limited by procedural bits and pieces is proving to be a little frustrating because I am learning SO MUCH.  So I thought I’d share some of it here, because heaven knows it could help someone somewhere somehow.

Remember the whole thing about motivation? That there was extrinsic and intrinsic and the latter was way way better? Turns out there are a lot more bits and pieces to motivation than psych 101 would have you believe. And more importantly there is such interplay between them and external factors and I’d like to add developmental ages and phases as well.


So with reading motivation we have:

  • Extrinsic (rewards, physical, achievement or emotional if you read more)
  • Intrinsic (reading is its own reward – interest, satisfaction etc.)
  • Social (currency gained by knowing stuff, sharing books and reading – turns negative around G5 with peer devaluation)
  • Self-efficacy (belief in ability – changes over time)
  • Work avoidance (starts in G2, avoid reading tasks due to low motivation and/or reading difficulties)

If you want to read just one study on the matter, I’d recommend Lee & Zentall (2015). They summarize most of the knowledge to date, have an excellent bibliography and most importantly add the longitudinal dimension. I really like longitudinal studies, and I know why they’re difficult and costly, but as a parent and an educator, what can be more valuable than recognizing and anticipating bumps along the road for what they are and taking preventative action before a student/child lands in a pot-hole?


I’d like to spend a little more time on self-efficacy. It has to do with self-concept as a reader (Förster & Souvignier, 2014; Proctor, Daley, Louick, Leider, & Gardner, 2014; Smith, Smith, Gilmore, & Jameson, 2012). I find it very interesting that self-efficacy takes a dive around Grade 3. Why? Because that is just the moment when the majority our self-confident readers, having spent 2 or 3 years soaring through the levels of their reading program are suddenly let loose into the big world of both “real chapter books” and needing to access their reading skills in order to “read to learn”. It’s that pivot point. The point at which I tell over anxious parents, “yes, now you can start worrying if the reading is not happening.”


So the question is what should our response be as parents and educators (another good point of the Lee & Zentall article – they add the “so what” bit). Remember the “terrible twos”? Well I think there is nothing more comforting in know that when behavior goes wonky, you have a frame of reference that says “oh, it’s this” accompanied by “I / my child / my student is not alone” and “this is normal” plus, hopefully some strategies in place that can be applied. I’ve just sent my blokes with books a set of positive affirmations that he can use in the Blokes with books club. It was one of a set of resources included in this very handy, practical and readable guide from Ireland (NEPS, 2012).


Then looking at the skill side of things. This is dangerous ground, because if a child is reading below the 30% percentile, (and they’re not 3 or 4 years old – I kid you not – I’ve had pre-kindergarten parents concerned their children are not reading yet – on that topic, please read this article (Suggate, Schaughency, & Reese, 2013)) and they’re over 8 years old, then there may be a problem.


What is the problem – well I’ll say mainly “beware, there be EGOS”. When there is a reading skill issue it is probably as a result of an experiential instructional deficit or a reading related cognitive problem (Scanlon, Gelzheiser, Vellutino, Schatschneider, & Sweeney, 2008). To put it simply, either they haven’t been taught properly at school or the home situation isn’t reinforcing adequately (hear those egos bristling), OR, the child has a reading related cognitive problem (Reading Disability – RD). This can be in decoding (like dyslexia); comprehension or retention and each have a different (here is a lay-person’s article) set of signs and ways of being addressed.


So, what does one do in this case – I like the NEPS article because they call for short, one-on-one or one-on-few and limited interventions of around 12 weeks. Obviously one can start with trying to overcome any instructional deficit, and if that fails, to move onto educational testing and specific RD related interventions. Once again there be Egos in the way – and if it helps at all, I can say “been there, done that, got the tears to prove it”. It’s hard to acknowledge that your child is anything than perfect, or at a pinch that they’re “normally” imperfect. But denial leads to more harm that good, and particularly because early intervention is so much more effective. Embedded in this article on dyslexia (Korbey, 2015) is an awesome scientific journal article (free to read! Yay) on RD, by Norton and Wolf that is very dense and brain spinning, but very good (Norton & Wolf, 2012). Personally I found the discussion on colour naming to be very interesting – talk about an early warning sign that we noticed but didn’t know was important.


I’m going to stop at this point – happy reading in the mean time. As always, interested in your thoughts and comments.


Förster, N., & Souvignier, E. (2014). Learning progress assessment and goal setting: Effects on reading achievement, reading motivation and reading self-concept. Learning and Instruction, 32, 91–100. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2014.02.002

Korbey, H. (2015, October 1). Understanding dyslexia and the reading brain in kids [Web Log]. Retrieved 11 September 2016, from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/10/01/understanding-dyslexia-and-the-reading-brain-in-kids/

Lee, J., & Zentall, S. S. (2015). Reading motivation and later reading achievement for students with reading disabilities and comparison groups (ADHD and typical): A 3-year longitudinal study. Contemporary Educational Psychology. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2015.11.001

NEPS. (2012). Effective interventions for struggling readers. National Educational Psychological Service. Retrieved from http://www.education.ie/en/Education-Staff/Information/NEPS-Literacy-Resource/neps_literacy_good_practice_guide.pdf

Norton, E. S., & Wolf, M. (2012). Rapid automatized naming (RAN) and reading fluency: Implications for understanding and treatment of reading disabilities. Annual Review of Psychology, 63(1), 427–452. http://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100431

Proctor, C. P., Daley, S., Louick, R., Leider, C. M., & Gardner, G. L. (2014). How motivation and engagement predict reading comprehension among native English-speaking and English-learning middle school students with disabilities in a remedial reading curriculum. Learning and Individual Differences, 36, 76–83. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2014.10.014

Scanlon, D. M., Gelzheiser, L. M., Vellutino, F. R., Schatschneider, C., & Sweeney, J. M. (2008). Reducing the incidence of early reading difficulties: Professional Development for classroom teachers versus direct interventions for children. Learning and Individual Differences, 18(3), 346–359. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2008.05.002

Smith, J. K., Smith, L. F., Gilmore, A., & Jameson, M. (2012). Students’ self-perception of reading ability, enjoyment of reading and reading achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(2), 202–206. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2011.04.010

Suggate, S. P., Schaughency, E. A., & Reese, E. (2013). Children learning to read later catch up to children reading earlier. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(1), 33–48. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.04.004


Blokes with Books Club

This post is about a year overdue, but here goes.

Early into my new job as a newly minted Teacher Librarian I started noticing the “lost boys”  of the library.  Those souls who would wander around and between the stacks with a dazed look on their faces. Or they’d be flicking through books without actually registering the contents. Or they’d just park themselves on a chair with the (too popular to let them be borrowed) Guinness Books of records and sit and talk through with “oohs and aahs” with their like-minded mates.  Obviously something.needed.to.be.done.

But equally obvious to my middle aged, white, female mind, I was not the one to do it. Or at least, not to appear to be the one to do it. But should it be a teacher? If so, which teacher? My criteria was young and male, but I didn’t know my new colleagues all that well… I settled on our EdTech coach, Tim.  An extremely busy and popular educator, with experience in the classroom and, since moving into the new role with all the classrooms, he was enthusiastic when I suggested it. (Phew).

We collaborated on lesson plan ideas, and books that may “hook” the students. And we were open for business. We emailed teachers from Grades 3-6 and asked if they had any students who they thought may benefit from this group. Most teachers had 1 or 2 students.  The first session started with about 8 students. And quickly word spread that this was a really fun thing to be involved with.  Group members had their own membership badges and a special “learning agreement” for their time in the library. Teachers reported back that the students were more motivated to borrow books and were super enthusiastic about going to the sessions which were held once a week on a Wednesday during the last period (a 40 minute period reserved for literacy leadership). A couple of ELL students were identified who would also benefit from being “one of the blokes” even though their language level wasn’t that high and they joined in as well.

The year ended with a bang when I chanced on reading of a book review of “Adventures of a Kid Magician” in February or March. Then of course it was a case of getting Tim’s mother to buy 5 copies of the book from Walmart – the only stockist at the time and shipping it to Singapore. It was as if we’d set off fireworks in the library. Basically each chapter leads to clues which unlocks a code to a youtube video showing how to do a magical trick. So the rest of the year involved multiple read-alouds of the chapters and hunting the clues down and desperate attempts by our blokes to be the next in line to read the book! Talk about a magic formula to combine the physical and digital (my review here),

dating lineWe started school on the 15th August and unfortunately the first few weeks our literacy period has been occupied by assemblies and other “housekeeping” matters like fire-drills. But the requests and the demands from our blokes were so incessant that we did a “soft launch” of the club during DEAR/SSR time. When I say “we” – I’m definitely the ghost in the machine and very much in the background and 99% of the credit for the magic that is happening is due to Tim.  When I handed out the permission forms for the surveys, nearly every boy (it’s grown to 25 boys!) returned the signed form the next day! Any teacher trying to get back permission forms can attest to how unusual that is.

Today was our first official day, starting with going over the essential agreements, one boy who insisted on doing a book talk on a book he was loving (Things Explainer – I’ve ordered a copy for the library now ) an ice-breaker of Zip Zap Zop followed by “Book Speed Dating” – 3 rounds of 5 minutes of “dating” a book after which the favourite was chosen (or not) for checkout.

Initial Lesson plans (2015/6):

Lesson # Ice Breaker Activities
1 Staring Contest

-Choose a Book Any Funny Book/read

-Read in the Dark/ Tent

-Find a girly book competition/read  

-Find a manly book competition/ read

2 Spot The Difference -Ben Cooperman Read Aloud his book “Gabriel and Five Joshuas”
3 Charades (written on note cards)

-Discuss adventures/ what kind of adventures there are

-Read choose your own adventure book

4 Crocodile Tooth Game Graphic Novels
5 Zip Zap Zop -Judge A Book By It’s Cover
6 Toilet Paper Mummy -Monster Books
7 Drawing Charades -Joke Books
8 Draw Yourself As Cartoon

-Dewey Grams

-write down the number of book and to hand to someone else

-Use scholastic.com to make a Christmas book wishlist

9 Minefield

-Introduce Legends and Myths with Sinbad Video

-Legends and Myths books

10 Zip Zap Zop

-Introduce old comics

-Read through old comics

11 Tennis Table Soccer

-Magazine Reading

Explain all the neat features of the different magazines

 12-end of year Various icebreakers Reading of “Adventures of a kid magician” and unlocking the videos 



Lovely little things

Did I ever mention how sweet my blokes are? And it must also be in large part since they have great supportive parents. Isn’t it super when a parent sends in a permission form with this on the back?


And when your students have been filling in a survey form on a lickert scale and they just can’t resist adding their own opinion – I mean how limiting can we sometimes be? Take note authors – they don’t just LOVE IT! when you write a new book they Love it 10x!


and then when I was administering the survey to a group of 5 of the boys who were absent when the rest were surveyed, there was a long discussion after around whether male readers liked reading or not. The gist being that they probably had to do a heck of a lot of reading, but that the topics and types of reading were probably not under their control or choice and that may result in them disliking reading instead of loving it!  Oh boys you are SO right!  That’s the whole point of FVR (free voluntary reading). Moments like that I wish I had my camera / microphone on and recording! But of course I didn’t because I was doing a survey and not an interview…


(Boys) Reading as a social activity

As I wander around my library during recess and lunchtime, before and after school, I realise more and more than reading is not the solitary quiet activity that it’s usually purported to be. I’ve taken to trying to capture this by photographing the communal reading that is going on – which takes me to an article that I’ve been reading that I think is quite important when thinking about boys’ literacy pursuits – “Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices” (Blair & Sanford, 2004).




boys2 boys1









Who can relate to this in their school libraries?

  • A cluster of boys sitting around a boy with the Guinness Book of Records – pointing and chatting and oohing and aahing about some record or another, followed by a debate about if it has been surpassed, and grabbing the next years book?
  • Two or 3 boys sitting with a Minecraft or lego book trying to find out how to do something?
  • A couple of younger boys reading the same graphic novel (usually squish or lunch lady) and turning the pages at the same time or waiting to turn the page so they can read the same thing at the same time?
  • Requests for books that tell them how to progress in computer / online games
  • Needing books about the 2nd world war because their grandfather or great-grandfather fought in it?

Blair and Sanford (2004) relate boys’ reading to their need to acquire social-cultural capital – i.e. they read as long as it enhances their peers and their own view of themselves as “acceptable masculine beings” and creates connection, collaboration and camaraderie between themselves and their friends. The authors refer to “team-like literacy” involving participation and interaction that is purposeful.

In terms of the kinds of texts that engage and fulfil these needs, the “rules” are simple

  • action > relationships
  • excitement > unfolding characters
  • need to suit personal interests / fact finding / purpose / sharing information
  • humour and fun ++++ important

I would suggest that the literary market / publishing is NOT catering for these needs adequately or at all in fact. Let’s take “Jets” for example.  The current obsession of the Grade 1 / 2 students in my school at the moment. The available books we have are dumb. They’re not information rich enough and the publishers cater to their reading level rather than their interest level. They’re dated before they even hit the shelves. They want elaborate up to date images with lots of numbers and facts – never mind the silly narrative “here is a pilot” “this is the instrument console”.  Ditto Lego – I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say it again. There is nothing inbetween the little books “castles, towns, 101 things to make” and “Lego StarWars” that is so big and bulky and hard to take home.  Make each chapter into a book FFS. How much time do publishers even spend walking around school libraries and talking to boys? (or even librarians? or teachers? or parents?).

This type of article also explains why our “Blokes with Books” and “Readers’ Cup” clubs work so well at school. Connection, affinity, literacies growing out of relationships.

Now to make sure we leverage that in the classrooms and at home.


Blair, H. A., & Sanford, K. (2004). Morphing literacy: Boys reshaping their school-based literacy practices. Language Arts, 81(6), 452.


Is Digital Scholarship limited by cultural myopia?



The parameters of scholarship in education are often based on Boyer’s (1990) dimensions of discovery, integration, application and teaching. Healey further expands on the scholarship of teaching to include “research into teaching and learning, critical reflection of practice and communication and dissemination about the practice of one’s subject” (2000, p. 169).


Broadening the discussion to include the transformational aspects of “digital” technology, educational scholarship has been enriched through open data, open publishing, a blurring of the academic and ‘real’ world, open teaching and learning and a movement from the individual to the distributed scholar and global access (Pearce, Weller, Scanlon, & Kinsley, 2012). However, Pearce etal. (2012, p. 169) cautioned that technology is “a necessary but not sufficient condition” for true scholarship. The question is, given the potential and reality of technology, what else is needed to fulfil the obligations of a modern ‘digital’ scholar?

Argument statement

This essay will argue that the dominance of a Western cognitive constructivist tradition in online and offline education, led by British, Australasian and North American (BANA) institutions limits knowledge, understanding and progress not only of its students, but of its scholars as well in exploiting the true potential of open educational tools and resources.


There are four main reasons for situating this essay in the context of teaching and learning, in particular, a critical reflection of digital scholarship practice in relation to multi-cultural multi-lingual (MCML) learning environments. Firstly, demographic shifts in education are occurring at an unprecedented rate as a result of globalisation, immigration, migration, and war (Boelens, 2010; Boelens, Cherek, Tilke, & Bailey, 2015). Secondly a significant shift to online education where the global market is showing a 9.2% five year annual compound growth rate and is now worth $107 billion led by India and China (Pappas, 2015). Thirdly, work and employment increasingly is global, remote and disaggregated with globally mobile and fluid workforce and both employers and employees requiring “just in time” rather than “just in case” skills and knowledge. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is a moral, ethical and value-based argument. On the one hand, MCML students are prejudiced by the dominance of a Western cognitive constructivist tradition in education (Catterick, 2007; Sadykova, 2014; Zhang & Kenny, 2010) and on the other, ignoring the MCML dimension limits critical reflective practice, the potential of international digital scholarship and knowledge and understanding of a large part of the educational scholars’ field.

Interpretive Discussion


Traditionally, creating culturally-responsive accommodations for MLMC students has faced considerable institutional opposition. The response of educational institutions, comprised a narrow range between non-accommodation and intervention in the form of student induction into ‘the system’ i.e. modify the student not the program (Catterick, 2007; Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010). Arguments against interventions cite costs, quality control, and expectations of the students themselves and their future employers that they are “Westernised” as a by-product of their education (Catterick, 2007).


Parrish and Linder-VanBerschot (2010) acknowledge these issues and suggest that institutions distinguish between entrenched cultural values and superficial practices, and create interventions with constructivist and instructivist alternatives or choices in learning activities and instructional format only where these are critical to learning success. Researchers sound a word of caution against cultural generalizations that lead to stereotyping and discrimination (Gazi, 2014; Hardy & Tolhurst, 2014; Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010). This can be ameliorated through a combination of embedding cultural considerations in each stage of the instructional design process, ensuring an iterative practice of reflection and modification and encouraging student interaction and feedback (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010; Young, 2009).


Models designed to foster awareness of cultural implications in education vary in their orientation. Initially research done in corporations (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010) and physical classrooms led to classroom or systems originated and oriented models such as the Inclusion, Attitude, Meaning, Competence (IAMC) model of Ginsberg & Wlodkowski (2009, cited in Suzuki & Nemoto, 2012) and the Cultural Dimensions Learning Framework (CDLF) (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010) which were adapted for online learning.


In contrast, the Culture Based Model (CBM) framework of Young (2009) and the Cultural Adaptation Process (CAP) model (Edmundson, 2007b) are product oriented with the aim of guiding designers to incorporate culture in the design of digital and online educational products. (See Appendix 1 for illustrations of these models).

Reflection on teaching and learning in a multi-cultural environment

Educational institutions are not the only suppliers of teaching and learning. Commercial entities, particularly multinational companies, go to an enormous amount of effort in creating culturally compatible user interfaces – see Edmundson’s (2007a) book “Globalized e-learning cultural challenges”. One could argue that this effort directly benefits their bottom line, however all institutions would benefit from this approach.


Fortunately there are some researchers open-minded enough to examine the assumptions of their own culture, reflect on the embedded cultural practices of teaching and learning and those of the digital platforms and applications and thoughtfully researching ways to reconcile the two so as to optimise the learning of their students (Chan & Rao, 2010; Looker, 2011; Ren & Montgomery, 2015; Sadykova, 2014). Critical examination of one’s own culture and introducing new technologies in a more considered and less forceful way, appears to result in more success and acceptance. Pedagogy aligned with sociocultural context allows scaffolding of current to new practice and understanding (Chan, 2010; Chan & Rao, 2010; Law et al., 2010; Rao & Chan, 2010).


Chan (2010) demonstrated aspects of the Confucian approach to teaching and learning were highly compatible with the values of digital scholarship, and showed how modifications in the way technological tools for collaborative learning were introduced positively impacted their acceptance by teachers and students in a high school setting.


More recently, in examining Korean students’ experiences of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Ahn, Yyon and Cha (2015) built on the CDLF of Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot (2010) showing how awareness, cultural sensitivity and relatively minor adjustments could enhance the online learning experience of such students without detracting from the quality and substance of the courses.


The introduction of digital innovation in the learning environment does not automatically lead to universal acceptance, but can resoundingly be rejected in any culture when it is felt basic assumptions and expectations are being violated – as the study of an online peer-to-peer review workshop tool revealed (Wilson, Diao, & Huang, 2015). Even if peer-to-peer review and data analytics have meta-cognitive benefits, their implementation is often poor and occurs within a context where cooperation and collaboration is espoused but underlying assumptions and pressures of competition and the importance of good grades prevail (Durall & Gros, 2014; Wilson et al., 2015). Similarly, suboptimal outcomes are seen if the social-emotional needs and group formation process is neglected in online scholarship or learning and made subservient to certification and task performance (Carabajal, LaPointe, & Gunawardena, 2003).


Current trends, futurist predictions, theoretical perspectives

Disaggregation and re-aggregation appears to be a theme in many of the discussions on trends and the future of education – something technology allows in ways previously not possible.


Ware, writing in 2011, predicted that the publication of academic research would be disaggregated between the repository process of registration and dissemination of work and the certification process which includes peer review and branding – an idea that harks back to the learned societies of the 18th and 19th centuries. (Ware, 2011). Four years later this is the reality in open access repositories in China (Ren & Montgomery, 2015). Retractions of research papers have also resulted in the calls for the publication of the complete research work flow including raw data – something that is now technologically possible and feasible as interrogation and data analytic tools develop (Larsen, 2008; Oransky & Marcus, 2010; Ware, 2011).


Technology enhances the agency of the self-directed learner (SDL) to re-aggregate OER to suit their learning needs. Mike Caulfield’s idea of choral explanations in OER textbooks:

“the text branches off into multiple available explanations of the same concept, explanations authored individually by a wide range of instructors, researchers, and students. You can keep reading until you find the explanation that makes sense, or you can start with simpler explanations and work your way to nuance.” (Caulfield, 2016, para. 63)

opens many possibilities for expanding textbooks to accommodate linguistic and cultural diversity – something international students already do when they purchase two (physical) textbooks, one that is not only in their home language but also in their home pedagogical culture (Bailey, 2016; Kim & Mizuishi, 2014)


Bates cautions that there is still an agency role to structure and accredit that knowledge acquisition (Bates, 2011), but in a globally mobile and fluid workforce, those aggregators will need to accommodate different cultures of learning. Public/private educational entities such as Singapore’s Institute of Technical Education are taking a regional lead in exporting their vocational training through their educational services division (Chong, 2014; ITEES, 2015; Li, Yao, & Chen, 2014).


Similarly consideration could be given to using the models and algorithms in the field of adaptive learning (Charles Sturt University, n.d.) and personalisation in order to create cultural adaptations based on parameters set by students.


Two universities, although very different in design are using innovative online technology, Kiron University to give refugees the opportunity to further their education (Bates, 2015) and Minerva University to give fee paying students a global education that is location independent for both students and professors (Wood, 2014). Such disruptive models of higher education raise all kinds of questions on the implications of digital learning including whether scholarship and research will continue if scholarship is not directly visible or rewarded (Harry Lewis, cited by Wood, 2014).

Implications for scholarly practice

In order to understand the role of technology, Kalantzis and Cope (2015) go back to the etymology of ‘media’ as agents bridging meaning across space and time to facilitate communication, understanding and learning. This has huge implications for scholarly practice.


Literature on global collaboration in the classroom (Higgitt et al., 2008; Thombs, Ivarsson, & Gillis, 2011), the research process (Siemens & Burr, 2013; Siemens, Cunningham, Duff, & Warwick, 2011) and online conferencing (LaPointe & Gunawardena, 2004) enumerates many benefits of such collaboration. These include but are not limited to the opening of and access to new knowledge; flattening of hierarchies, easier discovery and connection mechanisms; extending the reach and equity of scholars and reducing costs. Some of the problems however, include issues with technological difficulties and failure, differences in equipment standards and capabilities, scheduling issues due to time differences, misunderstandings due to language, the nature of computer-mediated communication including its text-basis, time-independence, asynchronous nature and inability to interpret culturally based non-verbal cues (Pearce et al., 2012; Selwyn, 2010; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a, 2012b; Weller, 2011).


Of these, language remains a significant barrier to open access international research and learning. Even where all members of a research team are proficient in a language (usually English), research in other languages may not be accessible to non-speakers (Loan & Sheikh, 2016; Ren & Montgomery, 2015), and language and cultural norms may be intertwined where nuance can result in misunderstanding (Siemens & Burr, 2013). As translation software continue to evolve will more students be able to study and do internationally recognised and disseminated research in their home language, (Cheesman et al., 2016; Palaiologou, 2007; Sadykova, 2014)? Or will the dominance of English prevail – albeit with a move to “global English” as envisioned by Schell (2007) and what will be lost as a result?


Digital scholarship within the context of international and globalised education could benefit from additional critical reflection into the assumptions concerning and attitudes towards multi-cultural and multi-lingual students and fellow researchers. Given the plethora of technological tools, research, knowledge and practice in non-BANA educational institutions, of intrepid researchers in BANA institutions and of multi-national corporations there are ample examples of best practice and the potential to positively impact student learning and educational scholarship in the digital realm.



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Appendix 1: Illustrations of Models


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Figure 1: IAMC model Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009 (cited in Suzuki & Nemoto, 2012 p. 25)


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Figure 2: Cultural Dimensions Learning Framework (Parrish & Linder-VanBerschot, 2010, summarized in Ahn, Yoon & Cha, 2015, p.207)


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Figure 3: Culture Based Model, Young, 2009, p. 38


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Figure 4: Cultural Adaptation Process (Edmundson, 2007b, p. 269)