Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What's up with Wattpad? (by Annie Fung)

This post is adapted from a Masters in Education research project by Annie Fung. Although the research was primarily intended for ESL classes, the article can be very useful for teachers working on Spanish programs.
What´s up with Wattpad?
Explore the potential of free mobile reading and writing on your laptop or smartphone!

Whenever I tell people I am doing a graduate degree in ESL, they nod and say, “That’s really interesting!” Now, they usually say this with a high pitched tone which tells me they are probably really thinking, “wow, you are kind of insane! What’s with packing your brain full of teaching theories?!” I must confess that sometimes, especially when cross-referencing multiple educational theories, I do wonder about the same thing. But theory does help with actual application in the classroom and the latest course that I took on different ESL teaching methods proved to be quite fascinating and useful. We were to explore and critique the use of technology and multimodality in the ESL classroom and that’s when I came upon the wonderful Wattpad. The following is an adapted snippet of my project which would hopefully entice you to explore Wattpad for yourself or even your students.
What is Wattpad?
Wattpad is a Canadian website that allows users to read and share original stories. Two core beliefs of the founders are that “everyone has a story to tell” and that the website should bring writers and their readers closer together.
In a nutshell, Wattpad is an interactive website with an unlimited amount of stories in multiple genres. Users can access and update their stories anytime, anywhere.

Features of Wattpad that may be useful for ESL students and teachers:
a) Accessibility for ESL students – Students can gain free access to millions of stories on the website via Internet access at home or at school and on their mobile phones. The average reading level of most stories (that I have sampled and put through readability tools) range from grades 4 to 10.
b) Multiple choices – Readers have stories of over sixteen genres at their fingertips.
c) Interactive – Like the Kobo Reader, readers can leave comments and questions for the authors and discuss the work with other readers at the touch of a button.
d) Room for creativity – Writers and their fans can create attractive and meaningful book covers to be displayed with the published works. To make reading even more exciting for readers, users can produce “book trailers” on YouTube.
e) High user input- You might be wondering if students can potentially be exposed to “bad writing” on this website. Yes! Yes, they will! But this is why our Albertan curriculum dictates that we educate students and challenge them to think critically and to evaluate the authenticity of information from the Internet and other sources. With guidance from language teachers, students can use the stories on the website to critique ideas, sentence structure, and so on.
Speaking of critique, all users are encouraged to leave feedback and to vote for stories, book covers, and book trailers that they love. Every year the website hosts the Watty Awards and participants take the quality of writing and art production very seriously. This is certain no popularity contest because award winners and runners-up usually all obtain over a million comments and votes from members of the Wattpad community!
e) Nurturing environment for budding writers- Unlike many story websites, users leave very constructive and positive feedback which not only acknowledges the writers’ efforts but also encourage them to improve on their work. ESL students would definitely benefit from such comments if they want to publish their works.
f) Multilingual stories – Although stories in English dominant the Wattpad landscape there is a great smatter of stories in Spanish and other languages. Since we now know that it is very useful for our students to continue to develop their first languages, perhaps this could be a platform for them to write and read in their mother tongue.
Before you dive into Wattpad…the “safety” and “legal” stuff…
a) “Readers discretion is advised” - As you can see, the website has many genres and it is probably a matter of time before students come to face with potential sexual or violent content. There may also be “cultural” content that may offend certain readers. Therefore, it is important that teachers and parents discuss the parameters of use beforehand. Many students likely are unaware of potentially “unsafe” or “offensive” content until they digitally open the book but teachers can lead discussions on common vocabulary that one can screen for in plot summaries and so forth so students are better prepared.
b) Privacy issues – It is important for teachers, parents, and students to fully understand the ramifications of putting information onto the Internet. While Wattpad publically states that it the authors have full copyrights to their stories school districts and parents may frown upon or forbid the publication of materials on such websites. Therefore, teachers must explore these issues before allowing publication of students’ stories in the classroom. If students are publishing stories privately, they should be made aware of the risks as well.
Final words…
There are obvious pros and cons to using Wattpad in the classroom. For a website that Margaret Atwood has claimed may be saving the endangered species (aka “new generation of young readers”), this website has great potential. Indeed, Atwood has joined forces with Wattpad to encourage young writers and readers to explore their literary potential. It is estimated by Techvibes (2013) that readers are now spending a staggering three billion minutes a month in total on Wattpad. With 1.5 million new stories updated per month, we are bound to find something entertaining and educational for everyone. But of course, sifting through the stories and using what criteria would be the next steps of research!
Want more potential teaching applications for Wattpad? Click HERE for the original project. Your feedback is very welcome!
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