How do we develop a school culture of reading? While we emphasize a lot on the ‘why’ we should be reading, let us look at the ‘how’ of reading. Along with the ‘how’, I shall share some of my personal habits I have inculcated in myself and my students when it comes to reading.
Reading is all about Emotion. A letter joins to form a word, which then forms sentences, that turns into a paragraph, a page, an essay and a novel. Thus we condition our minds to be emotionally charged with reading. Now, a mind trained to pick up the mobile at the drop of a ‘notification sound’ is too ill-programmed to be reading-conditioned. That is why it takes more than mere literacy to begin ‘reading’. It takes courage and patience. Perseverance and Persistence. It takes passion to be a Reader.
Remember, readers are leaders. To understand the concept of reading, we can use a simple yet effective strategy that can help us focus on our reading genes. After all, much before the world was introduced to technology, humans made rapid progress after the invention of printing press. Humans became global citizens when they began to READ.
The whole concept of reading can be categorized into a memorable acronym READ, which can be our key to open the doors of literacy and a lifelong love for words.
R = Ritual
E = Environment
A = Access
D = Dialogue
R = Ritual
Reading is a ritual. Yes, as much as getting up and brushing your teeth or tying your shoelace. This can be programmed into an involuntary action. You would slip in the reading mode as if by habit than by consciousness.
A key tip here is making books part of your lifestyle. As we discussed the ritual of reading, the more your students notice you with a book in your hand, the more they would be conscious to pick one next time.
Thus incorporating reading as a meaningful ritual is the first task of a good reading program. For example, you must set aside a daily time for reading. It could be early morning with your tea or just when about to go to bed at night. Research confirms that when you go to bed, after having viewed moving animations or pictures, the mind takes twice the time to go to an ‘off’ mode. So next time, you wonder why you could not sleep after all those YouTube videos and WhatsApp messages, you now know why!
Even if you need to begin with horror do not hesitate. Read. For my X-Files workshop on World of the Unknown [Ghosts & Spirits], I read cover to cover a dozen books on jinns, occult and exorcist plus a dozen interviews and articles on paranormal incidents. Now, your library could start with sports, event management, recipe or anything that could induce an environment of reading culture.
- E = Environment
With all books around, you may still never reach them. You may ask, how is that possible? That’s because we have created a “book zoo” in our homes and schools! In simple English, it refers to books kept in glass shelves with locks. How much more inaccessible you could get with your treasure?
Books are meant to be read and not stored like trophies. If you like to store your books, get digital ones. We must live by the age and the time for displaying your books is over. Research says, people never think of reading most books twice, unless when someone requests it from their bookshelf!
Why not make them accessible for you and your family? A great environment for your books means to place books at an arms-length in your home and school. Make books an extension of your furniture. I ask parents to name any five favourite books of their child and normally find grunts and nods as answers. Imagine, if our association with the books is too weak, how do we expect a reading culture in our schools?
Also, the school libraries are almost either too sacred a place where you go in with proper time and too much of etiquette to benefit from the books or too distant where you visit once a week or even a fortnight. The selection of books is done based on the budget (understandable) and librarian’s choice (not acceptable) and not on what children want to read.
- A = Access
Reading is a multi-level task. It is a mix of skills, ability and attitude. Simply reading is not enough. To develop a school reading culture, we need to relook at our reading concepts properly. Thus read-a-thon might help. Think of it as running a marathon, however not on the roads but pages of a book!
The ability to read is at the beginner level and could be renamed as decoding. It is like the ability to walk in a child. Of course, that is exciting but you are miles from being an Usain Bolt!
Next up, is the comprehension. To be able to understand what you are reading.
Stamina is akin to participating in a marathon. The mere ability to walk would be an entry level criterion. It is the ability to walk for long distances enduring the hardships is what marathoners are looking for. Thus as in the word read-a-thon, it is your stamina that counts. This is the advanced level.
Earlier you decoded and comprehended. But now you need to read pages after pages to develop a reading culture. That’s developing a voracious appetite for reading. You consume everything that comes your way from newspapers to dictionaries.
And finally is the fluency. It is not only about walking the long distance but also walking within an acceptable time frame. Thus a good reader would not only satisfy herself by relishing one book of the Harry Potter series but rather devour all the seven, and at an even pace.
Once you have mastered these four steps to reading, you emerge as an insatiable reader whose appetite is only fulfilled with libraries and more pages.
- D = Dialogue
Dialogue is the essence of reading with your child or student. Reading opens up new fronts and channels of communication. You explore new stories and find new friends in the characters of the book. A dialogue is basically a meaningful conversation that you have with someone.
Imagine having a conversation with the characters of your book. No, we are not asking you to have schizophrenia and imagine people all around you. Rather if you speak about the characters to others, speak about the plots, discuss the lessons you have learnt, feel elated at their success and be sorrowful of their losses.
So next time, let your students know what you think of Willy Wonka from the Chocolate Factory or spend time explaining to your spouse the life transformation of Jonathan Livingston, the seagull. Or you may take your own childhood lessons from Amir Aga and his fast-footed Kite Runner from Khalid Hosseini’s tales set in Afghanistan.
A dialogue is essential to keep your motivation from the book on. A dialogue lets you express your learning from the book. A dialogue also opens up an altogether new and interesting conversation. And yes, a dialogue gets other to take notice and maybe, just maybe, get your student excited to pick up another book of their own!