Passion for Reading

Haley Quinn is a history major with a minor in education at UMass Dartmouth. She is a member of Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society and will be graduating this May. She plans on student teaching in the fall and looks forward to becoming a passionate middle school history teacher in the near future.


The ability to read is a powerful tool, but a passion for reading is an even more powerful quality. We develop our passion for reading at the earliest of ages. When we are young children, our parents or the adults in our lives read to us. We have yet to gain the ability to read the words ourselves, but by being read to we have opened the door to a world of wonder. In Mem Fox’s (1993) Radical Reflections Lesson Thirteen, “Read Aloud, Alive, A Lot,” Fox expresses the experience of being read to:

From my own experiences, I realize that the literature I heard, rather than read, as a child resonates again and again in my memory whenever I sit down to write. It’s the sounds I remember rather than the sight of the words. Of course, silent reading also fills our storehouses, but it is an immediate treat to be read aloud to, especially when the reader reads in a lively manner, enthusiastically, using his or her voice expressively to paint vivid pictures in our imagination. (p. 68)


Through hearing the words, our imaginations go to work and transport us from where we are to a new place found in a book. By developing a student’s passion for reading at an early age through enthusiastic reading, we invite them to discover new concepts and experiences. While we are intrigued by literature when we are younger, most of us tend to lose this feeling of wonder when reading becomes. Why do we let ourselves do this and how can we prevent our students from falling victim to this curse?

As we advance through school, reading becomes a requirement with rules and restrictions. These restrictions were not present in our early childhood when the passion first sprouted in our minds. And unfortunately, it is not until adulthood when a lucky few can finally break free and enjoy reading again. In Lesson Eleven, “Eliminate the Idiotic Interfering Adult,” Fox gives us an example of these rules:


As adults we choose our own reading material…. No one chastises us for our choice. No one says, ‘That’s too short for you to read.’ No one says, ‘That’s too easy for you, put it back.’ No one says, ‘You couldn’t read that if you tried- it’s much too difficult.’… Yet if we take a peek into classrooms, libraries, and bookshops we will notice that children’s choices are often mocked, censured, censored and denied as valid by idiotic, interfering teachers, librarians, and parents. (p.66-67)


By setting boundaries on acceptable reading material, we might be eliminating that “one book” that might open their minds to a whole world of reading. We never know what might appeal to our students or children; by rejecting one simple thing, we could be unknowingly rejecting something much greater in importance. If we allow students to read about their interests or passions, they will begin to make connections between passion and reading. Reading will become less and less dreaded and more and more exciting.

Not only do we set up boundaries when it comes to subject matter and length, we also set up boundaries on their capabilities. If we expect more from our students and allow them to read outside of their grade level box, they might just surprise us. In Lesson Ten, “Kill the Idea that Kids Can’t,” Fox gives an example of a child exceeding expectations:

I did not expect Chloe, aged nine, to be able to read and enjoy Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She had watched three episodes of it on television before she asked if we had a copy of it in the house because she wanted to know how the story ended…It was on the tip of my tongue to say, ‘Yes, we do have a Pride and Prejudice in the house, but you’re much too young to read it.’ I stopped myself just in time. She wanted to read it, she needed to read it, so she did read it. I was astounded.” (p. 65-66)


We tend to assume that because we are older that we are wiser, but when we set limits on our students, we are not the wiser. The wiser teacher allows students to take risks because that is where miracles happen and dreams are realized: “If we allowed children to show us what they could do, they would probably learn a lot faster than we permit them to, at present” (Fox, 65-66). By creating restrictions on reading, we teach students that they can’t do this or they are unable to read that. Instead of making reading a positive experience, we focus on the negatives. No one fosters a passion out of negativity.

As teachers, parents, students, and as a society, we need to make reading comfortable again. We need to bring reading back to where it began. We grew up being read to by our parents, curled up on the couch or in bed before we go to sleep. Then in school, we read in a chair and desk or standing up, focusing less on the joy and more on the requirement. “Most of us prefer to sit down, curl up, or lie down to read. Most of us don’t read for pleasure, by choice, sitting upright at the kitchen table. Yet in school, we expect children to read in physical situations of the utmost discomfort” (Fox, 69).

To reignite the passion for reading, we need to take a cue from our childhoods. Enthusiastic “read alouds” should become commonplace in our classrooms, reading nooks with pillows should replace the table and chair. Allowing students to choose, take risks and keep an open mind will foster their passion and ultimately reverse the reading curse.

Reference:

Fox, M. (1993). Radical reflections: Passionate opinion on teaching, learning, and living. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.

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26 thoughts on “Passion for Reading

  1. Thanks Haley: You offer an important and passionate discussion here. Reading is a pleasure that appe;as to the senses, that can be as enjoyable as play and as rewarding as passionate exchange with other readers. Take a risk–and pick up a book–READ! I like that idea very much.

  2. Reading, and being read to are some of the most important aspects of childhood! You get to explore a whole new world, individually or in a group, and what better way to open up minds to new possibilities?

  3. Reading aloud is so important, yet it seems to be slipping away each year. When I was younger, my mother, sister and I read aloud all the time. Reading out loud was also happening in the classroom. Then I hit high school, and reading aloud was perceived as “nerdy” or “lame” by many students. I remember children getting so excited to read some lines from a story to the class when I was in elementary school. Even now, when my boyfriend and I are laying around – I am usually reading while he is doing homework – I have asked to read something out loud to him that struck me as funny or inspiring; he rolls his eyes and tells me he hates listening to people read. Can you believe it? Where did the respect, passion, and thrill go?

  4. I agree that the ability to choose the books you read is important to encourage a passion for reading. Whenever I had a reading list over the summer, I was really happy when able to choose a book over being assigned one. I certainly enjoyed The Blue Heron way more than The Old Man and the Sea, no offense to Hemingway fans. I also remember much more of The Blue Heron, and I read it five years before The Old Man and the Sea.

    I also agree that it is important to not set limits on anyone’s choice of reading material. When I choose a book to read, as I mentioned earlier, I am much more engrossed in it. I remember picking up my mother’s college geology book as a four year old, and she let me read it. She also taught me how to use a dictionary, so I could read it easier. A five minute lesson on her part introduced me to a land of layered brown and red rocks, prehistoric ferns, and dinosaurs. I now have a collection of geology, paleontology, and archaeology books along with an appreciation for the world around me. Reading that book was the beginning of my love to the pastime of reading.

  5. As a middle school literature teacher reading aloud to my students is important in the development of my classroom community. It’s important to expose students to all types of literature. We often recommend and share books.

  6. I agree that reading out loud is a very important thing to do. I will never forget this story, my whole family used to go on vacation for two weeks in the summer and this was when we were at the age when we had to do summer reading. My cousin hated reading and really wouldn’t do it if someone didn’t make him. my mom then decided to try and see if he would listen if she read aloud to him and that really sparked an interest in the books he was reading. He went from not wanting to read at all to asking my mom everyday to read to him. What i think is great is that since she was reading to him and he found out how much he enjoyed that he started reading on his own and now he doesn’t have a problem reading books hes assigned to read.
    I also like that the students at RPS are encouraged to read books while other students are doing the read 180. The classroom has couches set ups so that they aren’t just reading at a desk and I’m sure that sparks more interest in reading because they aren’t feeling like it’s such a forced reading environment

  7. Being read to as a kid is one of my best memories. I still love reading aloud and being read to, and wish it happened more often 🙂

  8. I love to read! When my children were little, I read to them daily, and my daughter has become an avid reader of a variety of books. My son, however, hates to read, and while that is disappointing to me I understand that he has different interests. At my school, we have a sustained silent reading period twice a week for 20 minutes, and I have found that it is not productive at all. While it works wonders for the readers at the school, the large number of students who don’t enjoy reading basically spend the time looking at a book but not actually reading it. Schools should not have a one-size-fits-all attitude toward reading. The idea of an all-school read doesn’t make sense to me, either. How can sixth-eighth graders all be interested in the same book? Another thing I’m not a fan of is the idea of summer reading lists. Again, this is forcing all the non-readers out there to develop an even stronger dislike of the activity. The lists that are generated inevitably have some boring choices (I was shocked to see that Hoot is still on the current list!). If you love to read, terrific, but it’s important to remember that not everyone does.

  9. Fostering a passion for reading in young people is as crucial as encouraging each child to chose what, when, and how they read. When I was in elementary school, the library had no tables or classroom chairs in it. There were beanbag chairs, pillows and couches nestled between the bookshelves, some grouped together for collaborative reading and some isolated for those of us who wanted peace and quiet. Once a week from 3rd through 6th grade, my teacher took my class to the library for an hour in the afternoon. We could read whatever we wanted, or listen to the librarian read aloud.

    Once “childhood” ends and “young adulthood” begins (namely, middle school) reading becomes compulsory and structured. Literature, however, does not change. So why should they way we experience it be altered? You said it, Haley, “By setting boundaries on acceptable reading material, we might be eliminating that “one book” that might open their minds to a whole world of reading.”

  10. Thanks Haley,
    I did not have a good experience with reading when I was a little girl. My sisters helped more than my mother to appreciated reading, and one thing I have learned about reading is: “The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, and it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind.It is a moral illumination.”

  11. This is an interesting subject, and one that my wife (also a teacher) and I talk about on a regular basis. My parents did not read to me as a kid on a regular basis, but I always did pretty well in school. However, as an adult, I read a number of newspapers daily but not books. On the other hand, my wife reads a book 7 days a week and has a real passion for reading. Due to her passion, my 11 year old daughter is also rarely without a book. As teachers, one of the greatest things we can do for our students is help them get interested in reading. This can be a major challenge with some of our students, but it can also be very rewarding when we see a connection made between a student and a book. In this day of computers and technology, the ability and desire to read can be lost on many students. I know I need to do a better job of talking to my students about just how powerful a good book can be…

  12. Some of my fondest memories as a kid include my dad reading to me. Sometimes he would read books that were far above my reading level that included a lot of words and concepts that I didn’t understand. But I believe that I learned a lot and it made me use my imagination more. With modern technology like cell phones and computers, kids today make lack that same experience to build their own imaginations. I also believe that reading aloud with my dad as a kid helped me with school and gave me an advantage over kids that didn’t have a lot of reading experiences. And it also has contributed to me still enjoying reading.

  13. I strongly agree with the importance of reading in students and children. As a younger child my parents always read to me and immersed myself in reading every night. This immersion in reading made me want to go out to Bakers Books later on in my life and constantly find new stories and adventures to read. It had an affect on me. English and Reading were always strong points in my education, which also may have triggered my interest in history, which I consider one giant story of events. I believe that reading can give a student many advantages, like vocabulary and speaking well, especially for younger students. Younger students can make a foundation by reading and build upon it for later in life.

  14. It is interesting to think about how reading changes with the stages in your life. Some of my earliest memories are of being read to by my mother. Books like The magic school bus and the Call of the Wild are two of the books that I can remember reading before I went to bed at night. This was before reading was assigned as homework or came with study questions. It is also interesting that if asked questions about the Call of the Wild I would still be able to answers them easily.
    It is important that young leaner’s not have their reading experienced choreographed. When you are just beginning to read, there should not be right or wrong answers. Stories have the ability to invoke emotions. Helping students learn how to express those emotions are what is most important.

  15. I enjoyed this article about reading. My 15 year old step-daughter asked me a couple of months ago,”Why can’t we read what we want to? Why do we have assigned reading on books that we just don’t like and have no interest in?” I was stumped. As teachers, we have to teach what we are told to teach and really have little to do with the curriculum. However, I implement an “Independent Reading” component in my classroom. Each month, the students pick a book on their own (which is subject to my approval) or from the bookshelf in my room. They get to choose THEY WANT to read and write up a report, a critique for a newspaper, or a recommendation (or not) for the book to a friend, etc. This helps to alleviate the bad feelings that come fro being forced to read the other books dictated by the curriculum. It seems to work quite well and the kids feel more empowered in their own education. They actually enjoy reading much of the time!

  16. I enjoyed this article about reading. My 15 year old step-daughter asked me a couple of months ago,”Why can’t we read what we want to? Why do we have assigned reading on books that we just don’t like and have no interest in?” I was stumped. As teachers, we have to teach what we are told to teach and really have little to do with the curriculum. However, I implement an “Independent Reading” component in my classroom. Each month, the students pick a book on their own (which is subject to my approval) or from the bookshelf in my room. They get to choose what THEY WANT to read and write up a report, a critique for a newspaper, or a recommendation (or not) for the book to a friend, etc. This helps to alleviate the bad feelings that come from being forced to read the other books dictated by the curriculum. It seems to work quite well and the kids feel more empowered in their own education. They actually enjoy reading much of the time!

  17. What a wonderful reminder for ALL teachers to incorporate some reading aloud to their students. It is important to model fluent, expressive reading and it engages the students more in the material. It is an extra tool in out teacher tool box especially for struggling readers who may not do reading assigned as homework. I have a friend who is an avid reader and she and her husband would read aloud to one another when they were dating! And this is a young couple; in their mid twenties or so. Reading should be encouraged and acknowledged as much as possible. Best wishes on your student teaching in the fall. I will be doing that as well in middle school English.

  18. I agree that the best way to keep students interested about reading is to allow them to read what they want to read. Teachers are often quick to shoot down suggestions, however students will learn more by making connections from things they want to read to what they are learning. I think it would be beneficial for a teacher to present a theme and then ask a student to find a book that they can somehow connect to that theme that interests them. I feel like a student would gain a lot more from this experience than being asked to read a book that they may not like nor have any interest in. The way to create a passion for reading is to allow students to read things that they are passionate about.

  19. I also agree that reading is a significant aspect of teaching. Teachers should consider the students’ opinions on the topics being read and allow them to choose a reading every once in a while. It is important to understand that when students read about something they can relate to, they are more likely to become interested in reading.

  20. This is so very true. Too many teachers in every level of education limit student’s reading before even giving them a chance to try. If you don’t allow a child or student to challenge themselves then when will they ever be able to improve their reading abilities and their overall intellect by themselves?

  21. I’m glad that you wrote a piece on reading aloud to students and the issues with reading selection. When I was in elementary school I expanded on my reading skills by reading books on Gorillas and other primates, which were incredibly fascinating to me at the time. This is why open book reports at the elementary school level are so crucial in developing students’ abilities read. By having a student choose a book about a topic that fascinates him/her, they can be fully immersed and determined to become better readers. Having books read to me or students reading aloud helped me better understand public speaking, and also acting by having the words on the page be brought to life by expression. All professional theatre companies out there begin their rehearsals by having actors read through the script aloud. Doing so enhances the comprehension of the text, and therefore is an effective tool in the classroom.

  22. I do strongly agree with you Haley that being read aloud to when you are younger is a great advantage for the child, from building vocabulary to understanding new concepts, but I feel it is not necessary. Through personal experiences, i have always been the person who would much rather read quietly. I feel that when i am being read to i get distracted very easily, and this was true when i was younger. Every night my mother would offer to read to me, but i refused and said I would rather do it on my own. I feel that my persistence for taking reading into my own hands is what has made me an extremely strong reading, not only in comprehension but vocabulary as well. Overall what i am trying to say it that being read to is nice, but is not necessary to succeed.

  23. I totally agree with this because when I was younger, I was not really read aloud to often and always had trouble with reading. I feel if someone were to read to me a lot then it would have kept me interested in it. Until recently, I have never really been interested in opening up a book and reading it just for pure enjoyment.

  24. I absolutely agree that reading aloud to children is a very important part of their childhood. As a high school student, I took part in the Read Across America program and would voluntarily read to elementary students during this week. I could feel the interest from the entire class of children throughout the sessions, and even from the parents that brought them there. During this program, the children were allowed to move about from classroom to classroom deciding which Dr. Seuss book they wanted to hear. This boosted their enthusiasm because they were able to hear their favorite stories. The parents also loved this experience because they were revisiting their own childhood, as they group up on these stories also. Every adult can relate to that feeling of being read to and it is a great one to have. Reading to young people out loud is necessary for children to develop their understanding of reading and personal interest in it. Great post!

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