Encouraging students to form a habit of reading fiction will not just improve scores and grades – it will reward them with an awareness of how multifaceted perceptions and experiences can be.
A question that I often ask is why do we read?
We don’t read because we don’t have enough to do: we read because we want to do more than that immediately available to us.
We don’t read because we want to escape life; we read to affirm and challenge life.
Do we read because we want to ‘get better’ at English? Certainly, reading is a vital aspect of improving literacy.
But is literacy a dirty word? It often relates to the lowest common denominator. It talks about the need for students to gain a functional skill.
The need to teach literacy is a very different from the need to teach (and learn) the ability to reflect on perception. This is certainly a more inspirational and functionally empowering way of perceiving reading. If students merely read stories as a pretty way of passing time, or of appreciating plot, then watch a film.
Reading fiction is a supremely active process that relies upon students experiencing the story. However, that process of experiencing is not just about feeling the narrow gamut of ‘happy or sad’ – it is about understanding the expectations that make up the values of the growing child. This is especially important to the international child, who has a great many distractions away from reading. For example, for the first time a student understands the concept of melancholy, then they might realise that to feel sad is OK sometimes. Alan Bennett’s metaphor of a hand intellectually raising from the book to take yours in companionship is real.
Therefore, for those who want their children to be suitably challenged in their reading, literary fiction exists to both satisfy and subvert expectation. The easiest stories to read are ones in which all our expectations are met. These are often entirely plot-based. The most literary are ones in which our expectations are almost entirely de-familiarised. These are almost entirely stylistic, and can make them seemingly nonsensical to the casual or immature reader, and a seeming waste of time.
However, if you have a child who struggles with reading, yet has no discernible difficulty with literacy, then I would suggest that modelling the reading and contemplation of texts comes most from the environment in which they reside. That means parents, older siblings, and peers. Do they read and question the world around them with wit and vivacity? If so, brilliant. If not, those children will likely rely upon the salesmanship efforts of their teachers to sell reading on a frequent basis.
Ultimately, I would guide you to consider the metaphor of seeing the reading of fiction or non-fiction as the choice to run on a treadmill versus the chance to run freely. Watching a film or playing a game continues regardless of whether we are creating that reality, with all its flaws etc.. Reading non- fiction does not always rely upon us to construct reality, to confirm or confound our impressions of the world around us, of what we do and why we do it.
Only fiction has that demand; only fiction has that reward.
By Gregory Anderson
Gregory is currently an educator at the Dubai English Speaking College. He holds a PGCE in English and Drama from the University of York in the UK. Mr Anderson has written extensively on pedagogy and lifestyle. To view some of his work, visit http://www.thequillguy.com/.