I do not like it, choice or need,
I do not like to sit and read.
One of the most disheartening phrases a child or teenager (or adult) can utter is, “I don’t like to read.” Studies suggest that reading for pleasure is a potential predictor of success (see this article by Dr. Ellen Ashburn) and posit a link between the presence of books in the house and success (see this article in the New York Times, 2007).
Learning to read is one thing. Developing a love of reading and books that becomes a lifetime habit and a family legacy is another thing entirely.
For this reason, I’ve chosen Raina Hanna’s article “Teacher ditches ‘skill and drill’ method for book-based learning” about fourth-grade teacher Brandy Gail Bailey for the next ProfoundNet. Here’s a snippet:
Bailey’s class recently read “A Long Way from Chicago” by Richard Peck, a piece of historical fiction set in the 1930s that follows a family’s life and memories. Bailey said, while set in another time, children can relate to the family and the characters. “When we do writing exercises, the students often write about the characters. They are able to write about these characters much more easily than writing about themselves, but you see the students themselves in their writings,” she said.
Instead of teaching traditional subjects as stand-alone skill sets, Bailey uses literature to engage students in the learning process. She chooses books that students can relate to and integrates the skills of reading, writing, and language arts into the discussion.
Another great thing about using novels to teach is the excitement it inspires in her students, Bailey said. “The students are more energized and excited when they walk into class. I had a class that wanted to give up recess so they could read the next chapter in a book. They wanted to know what happened next that much,” she said.
Think about the Harry Potter craze that had millions worldwide sitting up through the night to read The Deathly Hallows as soon as it appeared on shelves.
Now take a second to imagine that same drive keeping students on the edge of their seats to finish Les Miserables or Moby Dick.
Postmoderns have an overload of sensual stimuli vying for their attention; lack of concentration is a primary problem in convincing students to read long, slow-to-develop novels. However, short attention span is not a new phenomena.
Remember, Madame Bovary, Oliver Twist, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin all first appeared as serialized novels, in small chunks designed to entice readers and keep them desiring more. The Internet, a medium built on the concept of “bytes” or small, nonsequential segments (see this website for more discussion), has the potential to use the same technique that nineteenth century novelists and publishers used. As an example, by releasing one diary entry per day and offering access to the entire collection, the website dedicated to seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys has successfully implemented this strategy.
Programs that gather and store RSS feeds, like Google Reader, are ideal tools for making literature immediately and briefly accessible. American author Edgar Allan Poe’s “single effect” from reading stories in one sitting may be lost, but at a potential gain of increased desire for reading as a whole. And, perhaps, the other will follow, but the desire must come before there is anything to refine.
Thanks, Raina, for your thought-provoking article!