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