by Rikki Roccanti
As the school-year draws to a close for most public secondary schools, I have been reminiscing about my own experiences as a school-year ends and the long-awaited summer begins. As an avid reader, introvert, and easy sunburn-er, summers for me meant curling up in a recliner with a good book. I would spend entire days just reading. In the morning I would pick up my new book, run my hand over its shiny new cover, smell its freshly printed pages, and peel open the cover as my eyes adjusted to the first sentence. Hours and hours later, I would read the last line through my tear-blurred eyes and over the sound of my pounding heart, and then I would slowly – reluctantly – close the shiny cover and place the book upon my burdened bookshelf.
While no doubt many readers still experience some version of this, the twenty-first century has ushered in radically new forms of texts and with this an acknowledgment of radically new ways of reading. No longer do we merely sit down with a book, read it cover-to-cover, and then place it on our bookshelf to begin collecting dust. Rather, twenty-first century readers crave stories without borders – texts with multiple points of entry and no end-point in sight. Twenty-first century readers crave stories which immerse readers into complex fictional worlds which can contain multiple texts and plots told over a variety of mediums.
These kinds of stories are known as transmedia texts. The term transmedia storytelling was coined by media scholar Henry Jenkins. It refers to a “process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience” (Jenkins, 2007, para. 3). In other words, transmedia stories incorporate multiple media platforms and multiple texts to tell a story. When an individual finishes reading one of the Harry Potter novels, he or she can put down the book and pick up a computer mouse to click and enter the website Pottermore where they can continue to immerse themselves in J. K. Rowling’s story world. No longer just reading about Hogwarts, readers can now become wizards themselves and attend Hogwarts through this virtual reality.
While many readers are engaging in transmediated reading experiences in their free time, the English language arts classrooms still prefers traditional conceptions of what a story is and feels more comfortable teaching stories with clear and definite borders. What would it look like, however, if language arts teachers embraced the idea of stories without borders? What might it look like for language arts teachers to acknowledge that the twenty-first century is changing not only what stories look like but how our students read those stories? If we want our students to find relevance and significance in what we ask them to do inside the classroom, I believe we must acknowledge and sanction the kind of reading they do outside the classroom. As the field of English education continues to grapple with what a twenty-first century English classroom looks like, I believe an important starting point is embracing the existence of stories without borders and the kinds of transmediated reading in which our students engage. Perhaps by doing so, we can promote reading without borders – the kind of reading that connects literacy in the classroom with literacy outside the classroom and sets the foundation for lifelong readers and lifelong learners.
Jenkins, H. (2007, March 22). Transmedia storytelling 101 [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html