It was the first literature session in a Grade 4/5 classroom, immediately following a school vacation, hence I asked the children to tell me what they had read over the holidays. Individual children named novels they had read. However many children were silent and no-one named texts other than books.
‘Who read a magazine?’ I asked.
At last, more hands fluttered in the air. I chose several of the boys to tell me of the magazines they had read.
‘I read N64.’ It was Christian (Grade 5) speaking.
‘Enn 6.4’, I struggled to rename a magazine of which I had not previously heard.
‘N 64. Nintendo 64 , Lorraine.’ Christian was patient with my inexperience. ‘I’ve got one in my bag.’
Christian was offering to show his magazine to me.
When he brought it into the classroom there was a buzz of recognition and other children volunteered their interest in this same magazine. Voice after voice said they always read the ‘Cheats’ first.
‘Cheats’ I said feeling a ,little uncomfortable ‘Does this magazine teach you how to cheat?’
The children laughed and hurried to explain that cheats were the clues or short cuts for successful completion of particular games.
When I continued to ask questions about the magazine, Christian offered to lend it to me.
At home I struggled to read his N64 magazine. Where did one start? What was I reading for? What did some words mean? How did I pronounce some of these names? Who were these characters? Some of the synopses of particular games revealed much violence.
A week later in the same classroom I started with this same magazine asking Christian to explain to me how he went about reading it.
‘Well… when I get my new magazine I turn on the game I want to play, I open the magazine to the Table of Contents, find this game, turn to the page it is on, read the first step and do it on my game. Then I read the next step and do it. I keep reading until I complete the game.’
Here was a text user as per the Luke/ Freebody Four Resources Model!
Christian Talks about His Reading
A term later at the start of his Grade 6 year, I arranged to spend time talking with Christian about his reading, for I knew that in the middle school years he had been reading quite early junior novels. I told him that I was keen to find out more about his interest in the N64 magazine. Christian came to the interview prepared with a password written on a scrap of paper, a plastic wallet of pages torn from old N64 magazines, and two books, each of over 200 pages, ‘How To ‘Win At Banjo Kazoo’ and ‘Nintendo 64;A-Z of Cheats.’ The print size in both these books was very small. As Christian discussed these texts with me it was quickly obvious that he was very familiar with them. He could flick through them and find something he wanted to tell me about.
When showing me the first of the two books he said,
‘I’ve clocked ‘Banjo Kazooie’.’
Again I had to show my ignorance. ‘You’ve clocked it. What does that mean?’
‘It means you’ve completed the game.’
Time and again Christian explained vocabulary from the books to me:
infinite ammo you can’t run out of ammo
big heads you can make guys have bigger heads
they’re easier to kill
level warps go to any level
The instructions for this ‘Banjo Kazooie’ were quite dense and set out in long paragraphs. I thought Christian might read a line at a time and then execute the move. He explained this wasn’t how he followed the book at all. He read the whole paragraph and then tried to remember all the necessary instructions.
I’d purchased the latest N64 Gamer magazine to take to the interview. As Christian flicked through the pages it was very evident that he was absolutely familiar with the format of the magazine, the various sections of the magazine, symbols and the different games featured. At one stage he laughed. When I inquired what had made him laugh he was looking at a particular page.
‘I’ve never seen a game rate 3% before.’ he laughed again.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘Well…see the other games,’ as he flicked back through pages, ‘That’s pretty good, 82%.’
He explained that the various games were awarded marks. I noticed the heading at the top of the page, ‘Buyer’s Guide.’
Christian continued, ‘It tells you whether to buy the game. See ‘Donkey Kong’, 98%. That’s very good. ‘Banjo Kazooie’, 95%. Usually games that have been out a fair while don’t rate well. It’s still rating high.’
And then he spotted ‘Super Mario 64.’
‘Oh,’ quite excitedly,’ That’s still rating 100% and that was the second game to come out It’s been around one of the longest times.’
Some instructions for particular moves appeared to be written in code.(To me the lines of print did not look unlike knitting patterns!)
Spear: B.B + LP
Flame Eruption: F,F,B,B + LK
Such text was a breeze for Christian:
Back,back, plus low punch.
Forward, forward, back, back, plus low kick.
I asked Christian more general questions about his reading.
‘Christian you’re in Grade 6 now and reading well. I remember though that in Grades 3 and 4 you weren’t the most confident reader.’
‘No. Reading wasn’t easy then. My other school didn’t teach me to read. I came here in Grade 3 and my Grade 3 teacher at this school got me started in Literature. I remember my the first book I read was ‘Thomas The Cat.’ I wasn’t feeling confident about reading. The kids teased me.’
‘How do you feel now,’ I asked.
‘ It’s pretty easy. I’m reading ‘To The Dark Tower’ by Victor Kelleher. It’s very heavy for me.’
Text Users, Everyday Texts and School Literacy
Christian is a reader. He is reading both novels, and as well, important in his reading life, are the N64 books and magazines.
As a teacher I have learned much from Christian and some of the other boys who are quite passionate about particular magazines ( eg. Alex is passionate about wrestling magazines).
The electronic game industry is publishing more than enough books and magazines to keep a devotee busy reading non-stop, other than when one is playing the games!
I am also left with a lot of questions:
Are we as teachers informed about what our students actually read out of school?
Are we welcoming of children’s out of school reading?
Should we encourage reading of electronic magazines which feature some violence and sexism?
Is it better to bring such magazines into the classrooms so the issues of violence and sexism can be openly addressed?
Would our students benefit from regularly programmed magazine sessions in their classrooms?
Are some of our students in our school literacy programs disadvantaged because of the mismatch between what they wish to read out of school hours with the literature programs of our schools?
Are school literacy programs keeping pace with the literacy demands and possibilities of this technological age?
One thing is certain: if the State wise English test included extracts and questions from the N64 texts, Christian would star and I would barely score.
With appreciation to Christian for sharing his expertise.