Last year I tried an experiment with two sophomore classes. Students read books of choice for ten minutes each day. (For more details on my goals and hunches, take a look at this blog post.) One of the students from last year, Emma Hanson, now a junior, wrote this piece about the role our class played in her understanding of how students approach reading in and for school. Thanks, Emma, for allowing the use of your writing here.
A child is standing close to a hot stove and a mother yells, “Don’t touch the surface!” Almost immediately after this, the child reaches his hand up and touches the top of the stove while it is on. The child burns his hand and begins to cry, but the mother responds by saying, “I told you not to touch it and you anyway! You need to be a better listener!” When told not to do something, human nature automatically becomes even more interested than before to take part in that certain activity. The opposite effect works the same way. When forced to do something, it becomes more appealing to be rebellious and decide not to follow directions. Does this happen because we are interested in seeing if the grass is greener on the other side? Perhaps it is because we as a society don’t necessarily like to be told what to do and when to do it, especially when it comes to school work.
Every year in English class, we are assigned multiple different novels that we are to read diligently as assigned. The teacher will usually assign certain pages for a specific night’s homework and the next day, the students are presented with a quiz which is meant to demonstrate to the teacher which students legitimately read the assignment from the night before. In reality, the scores show nothing but dishonesty and false knowledge. This is a problem that has been growing larger as I have been working my way through school.
It started in seventh grade, where students would decide not to read the assigned pages in the novel, but instead would SparkNote the book where they could find just about everything out that they needed to know in order to be successful on the quiz. In fact, it worked perfectly well to the student’s advantage. As I have gone through school, I have seen this thread become even more popular. It makes me wonder, is the reason these students are not reading the novel along with the rest of the class solely because they have no interest in the book or is it because the student simply does not have any passion for reading? It is my belief that it is a mixture of the two, but they happen because of a domino theory. For instance, it begins when the student has no interest in reading that specific book because they find it boring or irrelevant to their life. From there, the student begins to complain about his or her hatred for reading in general. In truth though, the student does not necessarily dislike reading, but instead is getting a poor image in their head about how all books are. Students who judge their passion for reading based solely on the books that are a part of our curriculum are sadly missing out.
Last year in my English class, Mr. Anderson had us silently read any book that our heart desired for the first ten minutes of class. His grand scheme was to plant a seed in us that would last a lifetime. He told us that the book could be below or above our reading level, just as long as we found enjoyment in it. I can honestly say on behalf of many classmates and myself, that we read far more books than we would have ever read if we were never given the opportunity to reignite our passion for reading. Because he had us reading books that we chose for ourselves and enjoyed deeply, we began to have a great desire to read on our own again. This was extremely helpful when our curriculum books started to be assigned. Instead of ignoring our assignments, we would read exactly what we were told to because we wanted to. Of course the teacher had assigned certain pages for homework, but I can guarantee that a majority of my classmates did not use SparkNotes last year due to how influential Mr. Anderson was about the importance of the passion of reading.
Children disobey their parents when told not to do something because they do indeed want to know if the grass is greener on the other side. Maybe the reason we do or do not do something for a specific reason is because we want assurance that there will be a prize waiting for us depending on our decisions. Alike to reading, most people do not read unless there is a prize, but this is senseless. We should all be reading to get pleasure out of it for ourselves and maybe in the long run, it will help us with our school assignments. Like Confucius once said, “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”