User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Reading: A Natural Human Phenomenon Given the Right Conditions

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The written word is a fairly new development in human evolution given the history of humankind.  Even so, it has become a common and natural way of communication for a lot of people in our current times.  School curriculum often presents reading and writing as a forced, unnatural skill to be acquired through hard work.

As an elementary student, I was required to do the requisite book reports.  I wasn’t interested in the books I was told to read.  I learned how to creatively tweak the book cover summaries to write these reports – receiving A’s and B’s for books never read.

Fast forward to 9th grade.  I don’t know how but somehow I picked up Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and was hooked into reading.  Reading became my survival to my painful and boring high school experiences.  I would bring books of my choosing into class, would hide them in the class textbooks and joyful escape into the worlds of these books.  Without any prompting or direction, I located and read many of the books by the following authors during high school (note the following are direct links to websites dedicated to that author):

Fast forward – today.  We have seen this natural drive to read by this current generation of youth through the Harry Potter and Twilight series.  I recently asked a group of about 25 sixth graders if they liked to read and received a resounding, “No!”  I then asked if they had read Harry Potter and most had.

So I get frustrated when I read about all these formalized and structured ways to teach reading (and have a gut-level, nauseous reaction to discussions around Success For All and Reading First).  I understand that many kids do not have the skills and motivation to independently locate books of personal interest, but I do believe that one of the responsibilities of educators (of all content areas) is to provide learners with reading recommendations.

This past year, I started reading YA  novels, finding them intelligent, engaging, and thought provoking.  I believe if kids are introduced to the choice menu of these and similar books, then kids will become naturally interested in reading.  Some recommendations I would offer (if I was teaching middle or high school) include:

This is just my own list.  Imagine if educators and young adults shared all of their favorite books and discussions about these books became the norm in English classes.

Technology and social networking have the potential to increase interest and engagement in learning.  A few years ago I taught gifted education for elementary students.  Philip, a charismatic and sports-driven young man, said he was not interested in reading because he did not like the books the teachers gave him to read.  I introduced the class to Shelfari.

I don’t know what it was about this Web 2.0 tool but Philip totally took off, becoming motivated to read and add books of his choosing to his Shelfari. These can be viewed at http://www.shelfari.com/phillip12/shelf.

I am waiting for the day that the guiders and managers of education realize that forced education does not become lifelong learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 14, 2011 at 4:14 pm

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