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April 2008


Read to Compete

Instilling a lifelong habit of reading can start this summer.


“There isn’t anything to do. I’m so bored.” How many times each summer do you as a parent hear this?

The other day I was reading an article by Jimmy Kim titled, “Summer Reading and the Ethnic Achievement Gap” in the Journal of Education, where he writes that “studies have shown that children who read four or more books over the summer score better on reading comprehension tests than their peers who read only one or two books.” Does your child read? Are you comfortable helping him or her select appropriate books or magazines? Maybe you feel your child lacks confidence in reading.

As parents, we should have a large selection of books and magazines around the house, and as a teacher, I cannot overstress the importance of reading together with your children. Children are good listeners, but their reading ability doesn’t catch up with their listening ability until their middle school years.

Books can be stepping stones for talking about real life experiences or clarifying questions children may have. Children use real life experiences to help them make sense of and understand books, and books in turn can help them understand life and their world.

The world is rapidly changing and our children must have skills that allow them to adapt and succeed. Thomas Friedman’s bestseller, The World Is Flat, points out many challenges for the next generation. The world is becoming “flatter” as high-tech growth levels the playing field and our children will need better education and training to compete in this emerging global economy. Friedman states that it is hard to maintain a competitive edge if “people won’t acknowledge that there is an education gap emerging and that there is an ambition gap emerging and that we are in a quiet crisis.” Reading stimulates the thought processes of imagination and can help close this gap.

As a teacher, if I read the narrative part (the part where no character speaks) and let the students read the character parts, they will read with less resistance and struggle. This way, they cannot help but keep up with the story and this keeps them motivated and moving forward. Success leads to more attempts, and soon a lifelong habit is formed.

Now, I am not saying that if you read to your children they will begin to love reading. However, if you continue to read with them and encourage them to read, they will see that it has value. Children want to please and they are enthusiastic about what you get excited about.   

Many parents have asked me how some children read “monster” chapter books, such as the Harry Potter books or the Redwall series, when their own child brings home skinny books with lots of illustrations below his or her reading level. Well, confidence and exposure are the easy answers. But, seriously, the books cited are written in a format known as episodic plot. While they look daunting, they are just a string of simple stories. Each chapter is a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end that follows a character through a series of adventures. As these stories or chapters are read, they add up creating a whole. Once a child reads one chapter they want to read another and soon the book is finished and they are eager to read another book in the series.

Today our children have busy schedules just as we all do. Reading just 15 minutes each day adds up to 75 minutes each week. During the school year many students read just one book a month because they have a book report due waiting until the night before to complete the assignment.   

Our children need to be able to hold their own against global competitors. Getting them hooked on reading will help them stay on the right track.

[Lisa Madler is a middle school language arts teacher based in Columbus, Georgia]



Suggested Readings:

Grade 4

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Grade 5

The Best School Year Ever by Barbara Robinson

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Holes by Louis Sachar

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar and Stan Berenstein

Grade 6

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Grade 7

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Eragon / Eldest by Christopher Paolini

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Roller Birds of Rampur by Indi Rana

Teen readers / Young adults

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakEclipse by Stephenie Meyer

Monster by Walter Dean Meyers

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Websites: www.scholastic.com and www.teenreads.com contain lists for readers of all ages and a brief synopsis of each book.

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