- Last Updated: 09 December 2014
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The Value of Reading
Research shows that there is a strong correlation between reading and academic success. That seems obvious to me now. A student who is a good reader is more likely to do well in school and pass exams than a student who is a weak reader. I became an avid reader in college. A single book changed my life. I had to read a book for a college class, from a list provided by my instructor. I went to the Used Book Store and bought the first book I found on the list. It was not a classic or even a well-known book. I started to read the book that night and could not put it down. I was hooked. I began to read books constantly and I still do to this day. I noticed that the more books I read, the better writer I became. Because of that book list…I became a good student and a lifelong learner. To this day I keep that first book on a shelf in my office.
I have learned that good readers can understand the individual sentences and the organizational structure of a piece of writing. They can comprehend ideas, follow arguments, and detect implications. Good readers know most of the words in the text already, but they can also determine the meaning of many of the unfamiliar words from the context - failing this, they can use the dictionary effectively to do so. Basically, good readers can pull from the writing what is important for the particular task they are working on. And they can do it quickly! The way to become a good reader…is to read more.
Teachers know that there is a strong correlation between reading and vocabulary knowledge. In other words, students who have a large vocabulary are usually good readers. This is not very surprising, since the best way to acquire a large vocabulary is to read extensively, and if you read extensively you are likely to be or become a good reader!
Reading non-fiction is probably the most important, you learn about facts and events, but fiction will help children develop the reading skills needed for academic achievement. Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn illustrates this point. The main character is a young boy who at the start of the novel shares the pro-slavery views of the state he grew up in. However, as he travels with the runaway slave Jim, he comes to change his views (long after the reader has) and eventually assists Jim. It is a moral tale disguised as a children's adventure story.
Novels, when done well, are about life, and cause us to reflect on the human experience. We can all gain from more reflection. Powerful novels demand that we slow down and process how we are living our lives.
Fiction broadens our imagination and our sensitivity toward others. Novels can even affect society. The classic novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped personalize and simplify slavery to many Americans, provided an international boost to the abolitionist movement, and may literally have helped bring about the Civil War. John Steinbeck's 1939 novel, The Grapes of Wrath, publicized the plight of the people during the great depression. As a result, hearings in Washington were held on the conditions of migrant worker camps in California, and some labor laws were enacted to help these struggling Americans. Both novels increased the empathy of readers for the vulnerable and oppressed.
So if you want your child to be successful at school encourage him or her to read. I look at that first book on my shelf often to remind me how important it was to me. The title of that first book is Meat on the Hoof, by Gary Shaw. Mr. Shaw…you changed my life.