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What, and How, Do Rural Teens Want to Read?

At a time when schools are increasingly turning to digital devices to deliver content to students, a small, recently released study of rural teens says that print is the most desired medium for reading material in some rural areas, unlike the preferences of urban teens.

Researchers Kim Becnel and Robin A. Moeller surveyed 100 10th grade students in rural North Carolina for the study, which was published in the newest edition of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy (JAAL), published by the International Literacy Association. Students reported preferring print material over digital content, partly due to difficulties in reading off devices and the distractions that digital devices provide. The teens also said they prefer self-selected material to assigned reading, which is aligned with previous research cited in the study about teen reading preferences.

Teens also reported that access to books is a challenge in rural communities, as is a lack of general community interest in reading. For most of the teenagers surveyed, stores where books are available are at least an hour's drive away, and many of the students said their school or local libraries are insufficiently stocked and do not carry the books they are interested in.

To better support student reading habits in rural areas, the authors of the study suggest that teachers use popular young adult fiction to support history or English lessons, start a book club for students who are interested in reading, and work with school librarians to better publicize the books that are available in school libraries.

Some other highlights from the study:

  • Students responded that there seem to be few "readers" in the community and the attitude toward reading is generally negative.
  • Most students favored literature to nonfiction and especially gravitated toward stories with protagonists that are of good character.
  • Few students could think of stories they read that featured rural characters or settings similar to their communities.
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