Thursday, August 28, 2008

Reading to Learn - Extreme Positive Results

Children's Literature, Briefly 2nd Edition (pp. 282, 286-288)
Michael O. Tunnel & James S. Jacobs
Copyright 2000 by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Pearson Education, New Jersey



Readers usually underestimate their own importance. If a reader cannot create a book along with the writer, the book will never come to life. Creative involvement: That's the difference between reading a book and watching TV.
In watching TV, we are passive -- sponges; we do nothing. In reading we must become creators, imagining the setting of the story, seeing the facial expressions, hearing the inflection of the voices. The author and reader "know" each other; they meet on the bridge of words. (L'Engle 1980, p. 37-38).
The Classroom - Education and Trade Books
When children are interested in what they read, and read broadly -- whether fiction, nonfiction, or both -- they can learn much of value from trade books. People are able to grow and develop intellectually without the carefully monitored presentation of information typical of textbooks, as these examples show:
1. Robert Howard Allen has never seen his father. Robert's mother left him at age six to be raised by his grandfather, three great-aunts, and a great-uncle, all of whom lived in the same house in rural Tennessee. After his grandfather taught him to read, Robert regularly read the Bible to a blind great-aunt. "From age seven he read thousands of books -- from Donald Duck comics to Homer, James Joyce and Shakespeare...He began picking up books at yard sales, and by his early 20s he had some 2000 volumes" (Whittemore 1991, p. 4).
Robert Howard Allen stayed home and helped and read. He never went to school, not even for a day. At age 30 he easily passed a high school equivalency test, and at age 32 he showed up at Bethel College in McKenzie, Tennessee. Three years later he graduated summa cum laude (3.92 GPA), and continued his education by enrolling in graduate school at Vanderbilt University. Having earned his Ph.D. in English, he is currently a visiting lecturer at Murray State College in Kentucky (Whittemore 1991).
2. During her childhood, Lauralee Summer and her mother moved frequently from one homeless shelter to another. She remembers sitting on her mother's lap listening to stories. "'She was about 20 months old when I began reading to her every single night,' says [Lauralee's mother], who recalls a well-thumbed book of nursery rhymes. 'I read the same book every night. That was the only book we had'" (Gloster 1994, p. 1).
With money for her fourth birthday, Lauralee bought a See & Say book and taught herself to read. She soon was visiting libraries as mother and daughter moved among shelters and welfare hotels in three states. At age 10, Lauralee tried fourth-grade classes in two Santa Barbara schools, then quit in favor of reading to herself at the shelter. Eventually, she did attend school, an alternative program for nontraditional students during her senior year, where she took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and scored 1460, putting her in the 99.7 percentile of America's high school seniors. Lauralee applied to Harvard University and was admitted to the 1994 freshman class with a full scholarship (Gloster 1994).
3. Cushla Yeoman was born with multiple handicaps. Chromosome damage caused her spleen, kidneys, and mouth cavity to be deformed and prevented her from holding anything in her hand until she was three years old. She was diagnosed as mentally and physically retarded, and doctors recommended that she be institutionalized.
Cushla's parents had seen her respond to the picture books they read aloud, so they kept her home and increased their reading to fourteen picture books a day, week after week and month after month. By age five, Cushla was pronounced by doctors to be socially well adjusted and intellectually well above average (Butler 1980).
4. Wilbert Rideau committed a crime and was sent to the Louisiana State Prison for life. After a few angry years doing nothing but sitting and rebelling, Rideau picked up a book and spent a number of weeks reading it. Then he picked up another. Although he left school in eighth grade and English was his least favorite subject, soon he was reading two books a day on a variety of subjects. But he liked history best.
"I read about Napoleon, Mohammed, Lincoln, Washington, Bolivar, Sukarno," says Rideau. "I came to realize that a lot of people had terrible beginnings, but they lifted themselves up and gave something back to the world. I read Profiles in Courage (Pulitzer prize winner by John F. Kennedy). I'll never forget what it said -- that a man does what he must, regardless of the cost." One day, a guard passed him a copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Its message of self-reliance became Rideau's credo. "I started seeing that no matter how bad things looked, it was all on me whether I made something of myself or I died in some nameless grave." (quoted in Colt 1993, p. 71)
What Rideau did was initiate and become editor of the The Angolite, the convict magazine that is required reading in training classes for new correctional officers and also the first prison publication ever nominated for a National Magazine Award (an honor it has since earned six times). In addition, it is the first to win the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, a George Polk Award, and the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award (Colt 1993, p. 72).
We are not suggesting that the best way to learn is outside of school. Yet people can and do learn beyond the walls of formal education. All of us need to recognize that books can create interest in readers, that people learn better when they are interested, and that people can learn a great deal by reading widely on their own.

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