What Makes for Good Reading?

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.

 

Jessie

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6 Responses to What Makes for Good Reading?

  1. abbymevans2015 says:

    Your story is a reflection of my own. When I was in fourth grade I failed my reading EOG and there was a moment where the teachers asked my mom if I should be held back. My mom said no knowing that I was just a bad test takers. However, my passion for reading started when I read Harry Potter too! Now I am a English major wanting to teach high school and I could not agree more with your theory of choice. Having a choice means having power and that is something all high schoolers want, power in their own education! This post was awesome and thank you so much for sharing!

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    • jmroney says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience as well! I always find it fascinating that what is called a “failure” at a young age can be completely turned around with a little encouragement and hard work.

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  2. clr21 says:

    You really do make such a great point here! Thanks for being honest in sharing your own personal experience, as I think many of us can relate. It’s such a shame that due to a lack of interest in the books, we resort to giving up on reading them entirely. This is so easily seen as a dislike of reading as a whole instead of disinterest in a particular book. I hope the future of reading curriculums will include more choices for the students as well!

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  3. leighahall says:

    You’re bumping up against two things. First, the idea that choice in what you read can make you motivated to read. Yes, of course. You have selected something to read that fulfills a meaningful purpose in your life.

    The second thing is books as curriculum. In English, particularly once you enter high school, the books ARE the curriculum. You may have some choice, but it will be limited.

    That aside, you can’t always get choice in what you read all the time in school. No one will ever like everything they have to read. All subjects have curriculum, and books are one way that information is communicated in relation to that curriculum. So how do you suppose we address this motivation to read and choice in reading against curriculum?

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    • jmroney says:

      The trouble is that I do not know how to address this concern, nor does it seem that policymakers know how to either. A useful option was what I mentioned that my AP English teacher did my senior year of high school. He provided a selection of books that were from a required reading background, allowing students to read about a topic that interested them the most but still met required curriculum guidelines. Thank you for the challenging comment!

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