Action research update

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In which students reject reading on ipads …

This is what I had assumed would happen.  How wrong I was!

This is what I had assumed would happen. How wrong I was!

Last week, I interviewed my students about their initial experiences of reading graded readers.  At the time, they were all either some way through their first reading book or at the end of it.  If you’ve read my first blog about the extensive reading project, you’ll know that I have a mix of enthusiastic and reluctant readers taking part in the project, but without exception, my students would not choose to read graded readers.

Why not graded readers?

My first task was to find out the reasons behind this aversion.  Interestingly, the majority of students weren’t so much put off by graded readers as ignorant of their existence.  Seven out of eleven students didn’t know what a graded reader was, but, it turns out, were cautiously willing to ‘have a go’ at reading one (and this included the reluctant readers).  There were four students who weren’t keen, and coincidentally, they seemed to be the stronger, more enthusiastic readers.  Their responses were:

  • I don’t mind reading graded readers, but they’re not my first choice: I couldn’t find books I like or the topics I’m interested in the range of books (2)
  • I don’t like reading graded readers because they aren’t enough of a challenge for me.(2)
  • I don’t like to be divided into a group which tells everyone what level I am. (1)

So, it seems that a concern about level and ‘losing face’ is a factor in students’ disinclination to choose graded readers.  So too is limitation of story choice.  This is hard to believe when the range of stories offered by diverse publishers is considered.  However, many of my keen readers tend to read ‘young adult’ literature and are attracted to best-selling titles such as The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska.  Others read adult fiction, with sophisticated emotional themes such as The Shock of the Fall.  All of the novels they read are contemporary stories and offer their readers the opportunity to ‘relate’ to the characters and their experiences.

Despite the continued reservations of one or two students with regard graded readers, a surprising number of students (16/22) said that they had ‘quite’ enjoyed their first graded reader experience.  They gave these reasons for doing so:

I enjoyed reading the book because Number of students
it wasn’t too difficult. ( I didn’t like the story much though) 3
I like the unexpected endings  of the Macmillan Readers 3
I like the genre 3
I like the subject matter 2
I like short stories, easy to digest without interruption 1
I’ve seen the book/ musical so ‘understand’ the story and can ignore the vocabulary I don’t understand. 1
I love all the small details and what they told you about the characters 1
Yes: Story is quite fun, liked the characters 2


The students’ enthusiasm for graded readers wasn’t overwhelming.  The enthusiastic readers amongst them tended to read the graded reader alongside their favoured teen literature.  In addition, most of the students had done few, or avoided altogether, the pre-reading, while reading and post-reading exercises…but more of this in the next blog in this series.

All of them, however, selected their next book without complaint.  Which, in terms of teenagers’ normal enthusiasm levels needs to be viewed as a minor victory.

Why not ipads?

Three weeks prior to the interview, I had allocated students their books.  Most had chosen to ‘borrow’ digital copies (all Oxford University Press bookworm titles) through RM Books’ Library.  This was a logical choice as they had already taken OUP’s reading level test and RM Books system allows several students to read the same book one after another.   Two other students, not finding any titles that interested them on RM Books, had opted for print versions of Cambridge University Press readers.  I had encouraged them to do this as choice was identified as a crucial factor in students’ motivation to read in the Reconnaissance questionnaire.  The print version of these books were the only viable option as it would then be possible for others to read the same books.  This would not have been an option had they downloaded an ebook.  A further four students had chosen books from the Macmillan Literature Collection.  These are only available in print at present and are suitable for students with a C1-2 reading level.

On receiving their books, students had very mixed reactions, some of which were unexpected.  My action research journal entry reflects this (names blacked out):


Date: 12th November 2015
Gave the year 9s and 10s books today. There were a mixture of reactions.  All were engaged.  Some were excited and asked questions.  Around three girls weren’t so enthusiastic and this was mostly down to the digital formats of their books, it transpired.  In the Year 9 class, one girl seemed very stressed about how to use RM books.Two girls in year 9 expressed disappointment that they had to read their books on ipads. 

Two students in Year 10 are very resistant also to reading books on their ipads.


Digital refuseniks were asked to ‘try’ to use RM books for the first book and to see how they ‘get on’, in the hope that they will adapt to this way of reading and find it useful.

At interview stage, my hopes that digital rejectors would adapt to reading on ipads were dashed: it turned out that only one out of thirteen students preferred reading on ipads to print books.  Here is the range of reasons they gave:

I like the feel of a book 6
Reading a print book helps me get into the story more easily 1
Reading on an ipad is bad for her eyes 5
She finds an ipad heavy to hold 1
Ipad is a ‘pain’: need to sign in to RM books, book sometimes takes ages to load, ipad needs charging 5
Digital books don’t feel ‘real’ 1
I get more of a sense of progress and achievement from print books 2
Reading on an ipad ‘sucks the joy out of reading’ 1
Reading on an ipad distracts me; I’m tempted to look at other things 1
I’m ‘used to’ a print book, likes the familiarity 1
Books are heavy 1

The one student who was ‘pro’ the ipad had the following to say:

My ipad is always with me so I don’t have to carry round books 1


Although teenagers are often portrayed as ‘digital natives’ or ‘screenagers’, it seemed that these stereotypes do not hold true when it comes to so-called reading for pleasure.  The majority of students read just before going to sleep and found a print book very much more relaxing than reading on their ipads.  What’s more, I was surprised to learn that only one or two students owned Kindles and these were not charged!

So, at the end of the first cycle of the programme, I’ve discovered that many of my students could learn to enjoy graded readers, provided that they have contemporary storylines which they can relate to and fulfil the students’ other expressed preferences.  However, I am not convinced that they will come round to the digital graded e-readers that my school has now committed to.  There are still three books to go, so I’ll just have to wait and see.


  1. The transition from books to e-readers will naturally, not be without “teething problems” but the future is, most definitely, e-readers.

  2. Hi Verity,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on tomorrow’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.


    • Hi Ann,

      That’s wonderful news; thank you very much indeed. I’ll keep all my fingers crossed!

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