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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Reading Makes You Smart: Who Knew?

While I am primarily an English teacher, I do have one section of Reading Intervention, a class intended for struggling readers and those that have not passed the state-mandated standardized test in that area. For the most part, these students are those whose first language is not English, have a learning disability, or face other circumstances that result in academic problems. At the end of class today, one of these students asked me if I read to my son. “Of course!” I said. “That’s what parents do.” The look he gave me was one of both humor and shame, and I immediately realized that his parents rarely, if ever, read him a bedtime story. Then I asked the class the same question and not a single student out of 22 struggling readers opened a book with their parents on a regular or even semi-regular basis. This got me thinking about all my students and any correlation that may exist between parents who read and the students who have the skills to be successful, so I took a poll:

•In my Pre-AP classes, ALL students reported that their parents or siblings read to them on a regular basis when they were growing up. I even had a few tell me their parents don’t speak English, so they would read them books in their native language and their older siblings would read to them in English.
•In my Academic classes, it was split pretty evenly down the middle. As I expected, those who had a strong reading comprehension skills and a command of the written language were read to frequently as children. On the other hand, those who struggled with language arts were the ones that rarely opened a book in their home. In fact, some of this latter group claimed that their family owned very few, if any, books.

The results aren’t surprising. In fact, I could have guessed the same thing without the official poll, but what did shock me was the lack of exceptions of any kind. For every single student polled, it looked like a very clear-cut case that, if you read to your kids, they’ll have the skills necessary to become successful. Granted, this was a very small sample of 142 students, and not all the kids who could be successful are reaching their potential (apathy is a bitch).

Those students whose parents did not read to them regularly provided numerous reasons as to why this wasn’t a part of their childhood. For many, their parents worked nights and they were forced to fend for themselves. Others were too busy caring for younger siblings or older family members to have time to sit down and read a book. Still, a sad majority admitted that their parents turned on the TV or played video games and considered this to be quality family time. I'm not going to waste your time explaining the implications; they're pretty clear. Instead of pondering the idea too long, just go grab a book and read to your kids. Or, if you don't have kids, come read to mine. He's probably tired of hearing me cry at the end of The Giving Tree.

*Please note: participation in this poll was completely voluntary; no one recorded his or her answer to my question and those who provided the reasons discussed in the last paragraph did so without any prompt from me (you know, so I don’t get sued or anything).


  1. I found your blog through Offbeat Mama :) I was wondering if you had any suggestions that might help me encourage my partner (who is 21 and would rather sit playing video games for hours on end than pick up a book)... I have several hundred books and have bought many because I thought he would enjoy them... even books based on his video games!

    Am I looking at a lost cause, here? Should I keep trying and hope that I can find something to spark his interest?

    (even if he doesn't read any of the books I buy for him, the money is never wasted... I read *every* book I've bought).

  2. I can relate, as my husband isn't much of a fiction reader either. I'll buy him books to take on vacation (for the plane, the beach, etc), but he usually falls asleep instead. That said, he loves short nonfiction pieces from magazines and internet articles, as he's a science-minded kind of guy. He'll also read a vehicle owner's manual from cover to cover, but it takes a really good novel to interest him enough to finish it (Tom Robbins is his personal favorite author).

    I'd say start with magazines...I know many can be a bit heavy on the ads and light on literary value, but at least it's a start. If it's been a while since he's read, it will likely take him some time to get used to reading longer pieces, like novels. I know it sounds crazy, but you actually have to "train" your brain to improve reading fluency. Start with short, high-interest pieces and go up from there.

    Hope this helps!

  3. This is a really interesting observation, I'm glad you thought to ask the questions.

    In Australia there is a lot of focus on education in raising literacy standards, but ultimately literacy develops well before school age.

    I write a blog of children's stories, which I intend to keep freely available online so people have easy, free access - it's my attempt to help the falling literacy standards.

    Yet, without more awareness of the importance of reading together from a young age, and more willingness from parents to do so, we are fighting an uphill battle.

    I would love to reference this blog in my next Author's Blog if that's ok with you.

  4. I'd be honored! And please send me the link to your children's stories, as I'd love share them with my little man, as well as my small collection of readers here.

    Thanks for reading and offering your two cents!

  5. Yay! Oh sure, my blog is :-) Speaking of which, I must go finish my latest story for tomorrow - oops!

    I should have my next author's blog up next week.

  6. Oops, that was a lie - my latest story turned out a lot longer than expected so I had to break it up more. Also, the ending is completely different to what I thought, I love when stories do that! It's nice to be surprised :-)