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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Student Perseverance

Perseverance is a necessary trait which is possessed by all successful students.  Perseverance speaks to a refusal to give up the pursuit of a goal despite attendant difficulties.  It involves the ability to see failure as a positive learning experience and empowers the student to try and try again until the learning goal is attained.  Perseverant students understand the value of hard work, hone their problem-solving skills and take responsibility for their own academic progress.  They do not make excuses or blame others for failure.

Student perseverance is firmly rooted in the domain of social and emotional learning which I have explored in a previous blog post.  It stems directly from three of CASEL’s five social and emotional learning competencies, namely, Self-Awareness, Self-Management and Responsible Decision-Making.  At times it even includes the other two: Social Awareness and Relationship Skills, especially in building academically productive relationships with teachers, parents and other students.  Some aspects of student perseverance may also be socio-cultural in origin especially as they relate to ethnic and socio-economic variables among students.  As a reminder, CASEL is the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.  It is the leading organization in the U.S. for advancing the development of academic, social and emotional competence for all students.

It should be clear by now that academic success does not depend on cognitive ability alone.  It is also dependent on social-emotional and socio-cultural factors such as perseverance and associated student qualities which include motivation, patience, focus, persistence, resourcefulness, resilience, and a high value attached to education.  In the mid-1990s, Daniel Goleman, a co-founder of CASEL, published the book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”  This book allowed people to understand the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) which can be seen as a measurement of emotional learning.

Perseverant students are easy to identify at school.  They work hard to improve their grades and they understand that things which are worthwhile are never easy.  They set goals and commit to them, never giving in to frustration or fearing failure.  They think positively and firmly believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to do.  They ask for help when this is necessary; often seeking assistance from teachers and more knowledgeable peers.  They show initiative in finding solutions for academic or learning problems and they often work collaboratively with other motivated students.  They are not afraid of challenges and they ignore distractions.  They know that understanding increases in proportion to the effort they are willing to put into their work and they enjoy the satisfaction that comes from mastering difficult assignments.  Some even ask teachers for additional work.

Teachers and parents can foster student perseverance by talking to them about the benefits of perseverance and informing them about famous people who personify perseverance, such as Thomas Edison, Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill.  They must have high expectations for their charges and support their efforts to learn in every way.  They must get students to understand that learning extends far beyond purely cognitive skills.

Nowadays too many students try to avoid hard work.  They expect learning to be easy and they are all too willing to give up when the going gets tough.  They complain that academic work is boring and difficult.  We need to teach them social and emotional learning skills and not just curriculum content.  Student perseverance is a sorely needed characteristic in this scenario.