It’s AMAZING what happens when kids discover reading for fun! And sad that many never do. To buoy all our spirits and remind us how transformational reading can be, here are direct quotes from kids who participated in an experimental engaged reading program. That’s where the English teacher lets them choose stories they’re interested in (why is this a radical concept?).
“I read a couple of books where people get bullied, and it changed my mind, ’cause people commit suicide for it… And, like, the other day, I saw people on Facebook picking on this one girl, like, saying nobody liked her….Normally I wouldn’t have said anything. But now, if I see anything, I stop it.”
“A little bit ago, I had this realization, that, oh my gosh, I’m a happy person. It might have been some of the books I’ve read, like The Rules of Survival and November Blues….I’m, like, I have such an awesome life compared with other people.”
“I think I’ve gotten more open-minded because of the stuff I read. Because it’s something most people wouldn’t really consider reading. So, I’m more open-minded and willing to listen.”
“Keeping You a Secret is a book that some people didn’t really want to read because they don’t agree with the whole background of it, the whole gay thing. But some people were really taken to it and then talked to some of the people in our school that are like that. I guess got closer to them, too. I thought it was really good.”
“When I read The Rose That Grew From Concrete [by Tupac Shakur], it makes me think about how his environment was growing up. I mean, I lived it. My mom, she had me when she was 17. Didn’t know exactly where she was going. So, it was kind of hard… When I grow up, I’m going to college to become a criminal justice detective or a social worker or something like that. I feel like I have a way in life of helping a lot of people.”
“I used to be like super, super, super hyper when I’d come to school….Now I’m, like, chill in class, doing my work now. And I think that part of that is because of books. They give me something, like, to do when I’m fidgetive. I’ll just turn to the next page and read instead of getting in trouble.”
“It’s a common thing at our lunch table to talk about the books we’re reading, ’cause we all take them to lunch, even though we don’t read them at lunch. It’s just, they come around everywhere with us…it doesn’t even seem like nerdy. It’s just what’s been going on.”
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t like books at all until I read one, and that was Homeboyz, and I was like, all right, they’re interesting. Let’s go on to a second one. I liked that one, too, so I decided to go on to a third one and kept going.”
“After first block I’ll go down to [my English teacher’s] room and pick up my book. And in [reading intervention class] and science and all that and in lunch, I’ll read, and I’ll read like 40 pages. And it’s like I fell in love with almost every book…I read a lot at home now. I decided to spend my money on books rather than going to 7-Eleven and buying a Slurpee or something. I go to Books-a-Million near Target. That’s a good place to find some books.”
“In the beginning of the year, some of my friends, like Danny, he was thinking gangs were all cool, right? And then I read Homeboyz, and then I told him to read Homeboyz, and now he don’t like gangs. He ain’t into them. He’s, like, friendly now, into sports, just like me. So, all right! Cool. I’m trying to, persuading other people, to, like, read books too.”
“Before this year, we kind of had to read books they assigned to us, so I’d pretend to read it, and I just wouldn’t care about books at all. But now they give us a choice if we want to read it, where we get to pick the book that we read. I actually read it instead of pretending to read it.”
I’m so excited to have stumbled upon this research report! Those of us who write and read stories daily may find it hard to believe that this behavior isn’t an integral part of education, but it’s not. Along with scientific phonics-and-context-based early reading instruction, schools need to fully and totally embrace reading for fun. The fundamental idea is that reading only becomes a way of life when students are intrinsically motivated to read. And the formula is powerful but simple:
Fill their classrooms and lives with relevant, interesting, appealing reading, and give them every opportunity to get lost in a good book.
Alex Hiam is the author of Silent Lee and the Adventure of the Side Door Key and Silent Lee and the Oxford Adventure available now at Amazon.