Throughout childhood, I always felt behind my classmates in reading speed and comprehension. For the longest time, I had no enthusiasm to read, and only truly started reading in about first or second grade when my mom forced me to complete reading check assignments every night. My classmates and I were assigned to take home a Ziploc bag with an easy book in it, read the book, and then fill out a worksheet that had questions about what we read. Our parents had to sign the worksheet that we would turn in, proving that we completed the assignment. Although “See Spot Run” was not a difficult book to read, I really just wanted to play my Playstation when I got home from school instead.
The problem of making reading interesting to both young and old readers, is a highly prevalent problem in today’s ever-technological society. I remember the exact moment that my reading interest sparked. My second grade teacher was having us go around to different stations, one for basic math and counting with pebbles, one for quiet playtime, and another that I absolutely dreaded, picking a book and reading it for 15 minutes. The book of my choosing that day was of a topic that would appeal to many young girls, titled the “The Unicorn Who Had No Horn”. I started reading this book during activity time, and was so engrossed in it when it was time to switch stations, that I begged my teacher to let me take it home. I read this book at least a dozen times that year, before starting on a larger endeavor, the beloved “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”.
The point of this story is not to brag about my own personal journey into the world of reading, but rather to say that reading is something that can be interesting for young readers if only they are given the freedom to choose what they would like to read. Once I had the opportunity to read what I wanted, I wanted to read more and more. I read so much in elementary and middle school that my mom would have to take books away from me at night so that I would get some sleep. I went from being a poor reader whose teachers had extreme concern about, to an avid reader who always had her nose in a book. When children are given the power to make their own decisions, it often fosters a more interesting and engaging learning environment. This is what I want to see come out of education policy within the next few years.
The problem with many high school classrooms is also this mandated reading approach. Although the books assigned are often classic that further knowledge and connect to many other fields, a great majority of students either do not read the books, or they read a Sparknotes version just to pass the quizzes and tests. Another story from my youth, is about the summer before senior year AP English. My teacher sent home a list of books that we could pick from and choose two to read and report on. I chose the books “1984” by George Orwell and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” by Thomas Hardy, because they most appealed to what I was interested in learning about. Before that, I had not completely read any other high school assigned reading book. I relied on Sparknotes to wade through “Dante’s Inferno”, and I did not even pick up “The Iliad” even though it was assigned for me to do so. The problem was not that I did not like to read. I still have a list of the 23 books that I read in my free time my senior year of high school (I really like keeping lists of things). I just did not want to read books that were not of my own choosing. Although “1984” and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” were from a list that I did not form myself, the aspect of having choice in what I wanted to read and report on was valuable in my decision to read for school.
One day, I hope that former’s of education policy (and whoever makes the required reading agendas for public schools) will see that providing a little bit of choice to students is immensely helpful in fostering desire to read. Of course I know that there are still students who will not want to read for other reasons. Maybe they did not acquire a solid foundation on reading as a child, or maybe it’s just not “cool” to read among their social group. These students will have to be targeted differently according to their interests, but I believe that policy can be made that will benefit all students. Reading is something needed in everyday life, and if educators are not able to instill these basic values through current educational policies, there is always another way.