Sunday, October 9, 2016

Exploring a Youth Literature Trend: My Intro to Wattpad

In INFO 268 History of Youth Literature, our challenge this week has been to explore a trend that we do not have much experience with. We could, for instance, read a graphic novel or an e-book, or try out a book-based app.

My immediate thought was to pick a graphic novel from my reading wish list. But, having taken a course on graphic novels just this summer, I decided that since I already have a collection of reviews about various graphic novels, I should challenge myself to explore something else.

Racking my brain about what to look at, I then thought about my recent interviews with teens regarding reading and was reminded of Wattpad! Although I have had basic awareness of Wattpad as a way for students to share their creative writing works and read those of others, I have not previously spent time exploring it in depth, and so I used this week's assignment as an opportunity to do so.

First of all, check out this "Did you know?" blurb from the bottom of the Wattpad website. I'd say it is definitely about time that I check it out!

For my exploration, I looked at both Wattpad's website on my computer and also the app on my phone. When logging in, I noticed that there are a number of ways to browse and search for content:
  • Browsing by genre/category
  • Searching by tags - Below are currently trending tags. I have traditionally thought of Wattpad in terms of fan fiction related to anime and manga, science fiction and fantasy, and popular entertainment. It was fun to discover there is such variety, including how the election has caused #politics to trend with stories such as Dernie~ A Donald Trump x Bernie Sanders FanficHillary Clinton X reader, and Fifty Shades of Republican.
  • Following specific users - Of note, there is no delineation between who is a reader and who is a writer. A user's profile features lists of what they have read or are reading, plus works that they have written. As an educator, I find it exciting that students may simultaneously participate as consumers and creators. This makes me think about my students who are aspiring writers. They can write now and share their works now. They do not need to simply aspire.
  • Exploring lists - The sheer volume of content may be overwhelming, but Wattpad helps by including lists of what's new, recommended reads, related reads, user reading lists, and more.
  • Considering user rankings - Stories may "rise to the top" based on the number of people who read them and how many times they are starred. Below is a story that has been read 47 million times and has 1.7 million starred ratings!
  • Checking out Watty Award winners - Notice "She's With Me" pictured directly above is tagged #Wattys2016. The Wattys are annual awards that recognize works entered into the writing contest. To enter this year, writers simply had to tag their stories with #Wattys2016. The winners haven't been announced yet, but you can check out the 2015 winners who were selected out of over 75,000 entries. Works were recognized by genre (e.g., LGBT+, Urban, Fanfiction) and category (e.g., Hidden Gems, Best Use of Visuals, Cover-to-Cover), and there are even international winners (e.g., Filipino Winners, Turkish Winners, Russian Winners). In addition to the Watty Awards, Wattpad also encourages writing throughout the year by featuring shorter-term writing contests and challenges

When actually reading a story, what I found to be most striking is the way that they are so conversational. Besides connecting with an author on their profile's Conversation page or in club discussion boards, the story text itself facilitates embedded opportunities. As you read, you may make comments and read the comments of other readers. Reading thus becomes a shared, social experience.

The screenshots below show what it looks like when reading a story on the Wattpad app. The comment icons located in the right column may be tapped to reveal reader comments.

Now that I've entered the world of Wattpad, I can definitely see how addicting it can be as both a reader and writer; and as a teacher librarian, I want to start thinking about possibilities for integrating it into my programming and literacy efforts.

Even if I don't immediately integrate Wattpad, I am glad to be reminded that my students may be reading and writing in ways that I am not as familiar with. As adults, it is easy to assume that students are not actively engaged if we only look at traditionally prescribed channels. However, this exercise illustrates how, if we take the time to explore our teen's worlds with more curiosity, we may be pleasantly surprised - if not humbled - to learn that they are involved and innovating in remarkable ways on their own. If you haven't checked out Wattpad before or recently, I recommend you try it out!

NOTE: If you are not familiar with Wattpad, check out some concerns about it such as those shared in these Common Sense Media reviews. To balance concerns, though, also check out The Guardian article "The Tales Teens Tell: What Wattpad Did for Girls."

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