01 OCTOBER 2014

Reading Empowers

Reading Empowers

"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader".

(Margaret Fuller, 19th century American journalist)

Research shows us that students who read widely are more likely to achieve academic success at school and in examinations.

"Research findings in applied linguistics and reading research consistently show a strong correlation between reading proficiency and academic success at all ages, from the primary school right through to university level: students who read a lot and who understand what they read usually attain good grades."

Pretorius, E. 

[http://esl.fis.edu/parents/advice/read.htm 26 September 2014]

The problem nowadays of course is that there seems to be less of a desire to read than in the past. Teachers often complain that ‘Our students don’t read!’, and that ‘Reading is not part of our culture’, and that trying to encourage students to read is an enormous, and often time-wasting, challenge. We know that reading is a source of knowledge and language, but it should also be a source of entertainment, and I think that here lies part of the answer to the problem of our students not reading.

We need to ask ourselves when we last gave our students the chance to read something just for the pleasure of reading it, just for the pure enjoyment of reading it. The fact that reading is so often linked to eight comprehension questions, or a test, or some other form of ‘checking that my students have understood’, it isn’t really so surprising that there is little enjoyment for students.

On a recent visit to the UK I was genuinely surprised by two things I saw. The first was in a bookshop. I went inside because it had started to rain and I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a coffee and browse some books in the dry. I searched around for somewhere to sit but all the comfortable easy chairs were occupied – by teenagers with their heads buried in books. The second surprise was a little later the same day as I sat on the top deck of a double-decker bus – the front three rows were occupied by youngsters, again with their heads buried in books, and all of them oblivious to anything and everyone else around them. In both cases, in the bookshop and on the bus, the readers were not reading school textbooks, but stories written for their specific age group. It was obvious to me that those young people were highly motivated by what they were reading, most likely because they themselves had chosen the text, and to read it, because it was of interest to them.

The dilemma we face is how to get our students to behave in this way in the classroom. First and foremost, we need to remove their fear of always being formally questioned during or after reading. Secondly, students have to be given opportunities to read simply for the pleasure of reading, and part of this approach is to give students a choice in what they read. Teachers may argue that there isn’t enough time to allow this to happen, but I believe that even five minutes of reading for pleasure every day or every lesson will soon increase students’ motivation to want to read through their own choice. Of course, in reality, students cannot choose what to read in a coursebook unit, and it may often be the case that due to lack of resources or funds a school may not be able to supply students with choices in terms of what they read. But a start has to be made somewhere. Remember: reading empowers! If parents are not encouraging their children to read independently, then this encouragement has to take place in the classroom.

Oscar Wilde said: “It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” 


Peter Lucantoni has had a long career in English language teaching and teacher training in Europe, the Middle East, and, since 1993, in Cyprus. He is the author and co-author of several popular coursebooks for students including Cambridge IGCSE English as a Second Language (fourth edition).