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.

The “I / We Can’t….” Mindset.

” If  you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. ”  – Eldridge Cleaver.

One of the most frustrating and limiting attitudes I have encountered during my years as a school administrator is a strong tendency for many teachers and students to exhibit an “I / we can’t….” mindset towards problem solving.  This is very common in schools and manifests itself in many ways.

From staff and students alike, we hear statements such as: “Our students can’t do this,” or “This is too difficult for us,” or “We are not as good as school X or Y,” or “We don’t have the resources to do that.”  This self-defeatist mindset inhibits student achievement, creative teaching, and school effectiveness.  There are too many persons saying “I can’t….” and giving up without a fight.  Critical thinking, initiative and perseverance become casualties of this negative mindset.

Too many of us develop the unfortunate habit of immediately seeing many reasons why something cannot be done, rather than focusing on what can make it doable.  This is nothing more than a search for excuses.

We need to teach staff and students how to welcome problems and see them as interesting challenges, and opportunities to excel, rather than as insurmountable roadblocks.  Success comes from the ability to think creatively, solve problems and make wise decisions. Even if we failed in the past, we have to look at the situation or problem again and again in a different light.  We have to determine where we failed before and why.  What were the reasons for the failure?  What do we need to do this time to ensure success?  We must brainstorm collectively and select the best solutions that emerge from the discussion.  Then we apply and evaluate these solutions one by one until the problem is solved or the undesirable situation is rectified.  It may also be useful to find out what other schools did when they were facing similar difficulties.

The way forward entails shifting from the “I / we can’t….” mindset to an “I / we can….” mindset.  This fosters the necessary positive attitude which will empower staff and students to solve the inevitable teaching and learning problems.  It is always good policy to publicly recognize and reward those who think up the best solutions for school problems.  We must create a climate of capability and high expectations for everyone in our schools.  Today’s world belongs to those who approach problems without fear and who design and produce solutions which enhance and enrich our lives.