The Power of Reading

He that loves reading has everything within his reach.”  – William Godwin.

If anyone were to ask me what is the most effective learning tool available to students, my answer would be frequent reading.  I can speak of this from personal and professional experience.  Students can read traditional books or they can read online.  In fact, online reading is growing by leaps and bounds these days.

Educational experts agree that there is a strong correlation between extensive critical reading and higher academic achievement.  Eclectic and targeted reading both lead to significant acquisition of knowledge.  Habitual readers develop their reading comprehension skills and derive greater meaning from the text.  They get better at doing this with practice and at the same time they develop their higher order thinking and learning skills along with their understanding of abstract concepts.  All of this helps to create a much better student in the long run.

Some time ago Forbes indicated that studies show that reading fiction increases the readers’ emotional intelligence.  This then gives them a better understanding and management of themselves, people, and events in real life.  Dan Hurley, in an article in theguardian (23 January 2014) “Can reading make you smarter?” and in his book Smarter affirms that reading can increase all three major categories of intelligence.

Let us consider some aspects of the power of reading in the academic lives of our students:

  • Reading facilitates lifelong learning.
  • It facilitates research and progress in any subject.  Students can improve in their weak areas by reading.
  • Literature and history teach human behaviour and enhance students’ social and emotional intelligence.  They also teach analytical skills.
  • Reading allows students to stay ahead of the class.
  • Students are less dependent on the teacher.  Reading gives new ideas.
  • Research shows that reading improves students’ grammar, vocabulary, and use of language.
  • It is good preparation for higher education.
  • Reading develops the creative imagination.
  • Students learn to select and summarize the important information in any text.
  • Research has shown that regular reading stimulates improvement in logical thinking skills.
  • Reading leads to improvement in all communication skills.
  • Reading improves intelligence.
  • Reading enhances memory.

Given all the positive points about the power of reading stated above, there can be no doubt that reading is a very powerful learning tool for all students.  Parents and teachers must encourage students to read on a regular basis.  All the information in the world is available in books and online.  Teachers are no longer the main repositories of knowledge.  Of course, students should seek help when they do not understand certain elements of what they are reading.

Finally, if students continue reading on a regular basis, most of them will discover at some point, that in addition to its utilitarian value, reading can be a source of great pleasure or satisfaction.  When students reach this point in their intellectual development, the real power of reading becomes evident and they accept greater responsibility for their own academic and personal progress.  Two tools that complement critical reading are effective summarization and concise note-taking in the students’ own words.  This helps them to construct their own knowledge.

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Summer Learning Loss

Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”  – Isaac Asimov.

Every year millions of students all over the world eagerly look forward to the long summer holidays.  In the tropics they are more likely to be called the long holidays.  When I was a boy, at the start of these holidays we would sing variants of the song: ” No more Latin, no more French, No more sitting on the hard school bench,” as we anticipated a couple of months of freedom to go to the beach, play all sorts of games, and have all kinds of fun.  It was one of our favourite times of the year.  However, both then and now, it is not a good idea to spend the entire summer vacation just having fun and watching television every day.

Empirical evidence shows that many students forget substantial portions of what they learned during the school year, over the summer holidays, if they are not involved in summer learning activities.  They definitely lose some of their reading and mathematical skills.  Various studies also indicate that this summer learning loss is worse among students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.  Probably because there is less intellectual stimulation and fewer learning resources in their homes.

Students need to maintain a viable level of academic engagement over the long summer holidays.  This prepares them for the higher demands of the following school year.  This helps them to keep pace with new curriculum requirements instead of falling behind at the start of the new school year.  Various studies suggest that students lose two to three months worth of learning during the summer if there is no academic stimulation.  The greatest learning loss occurs in mathematics.

To prevent or minimize summer learning loss, experts say that students must practice reading, solve a few mathematical problems and participate in enrichment activities for a short time every day during the summer holidays.  They recommend about thirty minutes of reading and a few (less than five) mathematical problems per day.  They also recommend regular visits to the library and museums.  Academic summer camps or programmes and educational tours can be very helpful.  Of course, parents and guardians must monitor or supervise these activities to ensure that students are really engaged.  In some cases a tutor may be useful.

Students can be allowed to choose some of the reading material.  Parents can question them about what they are reading.  Let them write short essays or stories from time to time.  For the mathematics parents can buy workbooks at the appropriate grade or form level.  Let the students work with the books which will be used during the next school year as soon as they become available.  There are many free online lessons and programmes in various subject areas and online educational games.  Students should be encouraged to spend a short time, on a regular basis, reviewing previous notes and corrected work.  They should focus on improving their weak areas.

The practices mentioned above are recommended by many educators and will keep students’ scholastic skills sharp over the long holidays and reduce or eliminate summer learning loss.  They will also help students to take responsibility for their own learning.  Fortunately, they will still have a lot of time left every day to have fun.