I was never a big reader as a child. I’d read a few lines and admire the pictures on the book, by then I’d lose interest. Now when I see the students doing the same in my classroom, it drives me nuts to try and make them read a whole chapter, let alone a whole book. One of my biggest regrets in my life is not having read enough; I am however making up for it with my New Year’s resolution, by finishing my 9th book in 3 months. Having said that it’s not about the number of books you read but about how important it is to comprehend what one reads.
The benefits of reading are obvious, not just for children but adults alike. It triggers imagination, broadens perspectives, improves language skills and interestingly even writing skills. For children it is the best way to increase vocabulary, and the reason it should be started young is that children experience a vocabulary explosion from age 2-13. Entertainment for some and a fun leisurely activity for others, reading is known to make children more empathetic and improve concentration. One can travel around the world sitting in a room!
With all those benefits how does one encourage reading in a classroom environment?
Thanks to a very generous donation by Garfield high school in Seattle our school already had over 349 books of various genres. Setting up a school library is more than just setting books in a cupboard; it is organizing with a method to the madness and finding/making the ideal place for the students to read at. The only way to make the library sustainable even after I left was involving the teachers of the school to carry out a library periods in their free time and have the English teacher as their librarian. So the senior grade English teacher and I made a database of all the books after sorting them age group and theme wise, pasted serial numbers and maintained a book log.
But the bigger problem though once the library was set up was not running the library but making kids really want to read. After distributing the books in class for a period all you see is kids exchanging book after every 2 seconds and more curious about the colorful pictures in the neighbors books. Reminds you of some one? I could relate to them and understand this. So after a friend/co-Idexer Hannah Snyder’s suggestion of what might work, we decided to implement the famous incentive program to try and get kids to read. As much as the incentive program feels like bribing children into doing something I believe it is also the best example of how the real world works. They see how success is only a result of hard work (not bribing).
For this program all you need is Post-its (colorful ones preferred) and books. A list of ten words from the book needs to be made and stuck at the end of the book and the task for the students is to find these words in the book. Then as the assignment is to write the sentence in which they found the word, the meaning of the sentence they understood with reference to context and the meaning of the word. They are allowed to use the dictionary for this activity. The students do finish as many words or all ten words win! Through this activity the students skim through most of the book even if in search of that one word. As a reward they can be allowed to choose the book of their choice in the next library period or a free sports period the next time. In my experience this activity worked really well with my students where by the end of the month 90% of the students in the class finished reading one book each.
Reading of any kind is good, even if it is in the regional language and must be encouraged no matter how old or young. Sooner the better.