What's the most-read article on Newsela?
Despacito. Old Town Road. Even the ubiquitous Baby Shark. What do these inescapable tunes have to do with one billion content views on Newsela?
Turns out, the all time most-read article on Newsela is this Science Friday piece about earworms, i.e. the songs that stay stuck in our heads. You may think that this sounds juvenile - but proving the universality of this experience, our data shows that this article remains popular among students at every level, from elementary through high school. We wondered: of all the articles that students found appealing, what is it about this article that drove it to the top, and what might that say about student reading interests that isn’t always obvious?
The language of music is universal and the article draws readers in with its everyday relevance. But then it gets at something unexpected: the complex brain science of what causes earworms. Our brains are participating actively when we hear an earworm, even if our bodies are sitting still. As one researcher puts it, “an earworm is your brain singing.” At every level of the article - across grade-level reading abilities - students get a taste of the scientific “why” behind the phenomenon.
Students’ interests are often more complex than we initially give them credit for, often more sophisticated than their on-grade materials will support. The cost for assuming that a student’s intellectual curiosities are equivalent to their reading ability is significant, as it can lead to teaching down to students instead of keeping expectations high. And we know that when teachers hold high expectations that students can grapple with complex topics, those expectations can play a large role in students’ opportunity to learn, motivation, and even their academic achievement.
So maybe students are using unexpected entry points to their learning like video games, social media, or even candy. We can take heart that there’s often more complexity there - in the best possible way.