As the day goes on, many students drag themselves down the hall and into the classroom with the weight of resignation that comes from a tightly, packed middle school schedule. The luster of these bright, inquisitive souls is, at times, dimmed by exhaustion.
“Can we just read?” is the question that repeats throughout the day.
“Yes, we will be reading today. Find a cozy spot and dive into your books.”
“Just reading?” I am asked again.
I smile when I repeat my affirmation.
I watch student after student visibly exhale. Shoulders relax and a bounce is detectable in most steps. Of course, I do have some students for whom reading is not the first choice. But, given space and time, and a pile of books constructed just for them, these students settle into the task with more attention each time.
There is nothing better than looking around at students curled in cozy chairs, spread out on the rug or leaning with a pillow against the wall.
But, the question, “can we just read?” digs in like a burr.
Reading is at once an incredibly complex task and a great escape. In her groundbreaking book, Proust and the Squid, cognitive neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf states, “human beings were never born to read.” She continues, “We now know that groups of neurons create new connections and pathways among themselves every time we acquire a new skill….Reading can be learned only because of the brain’s plastic design.”
In other words, every single time a student picks up a book and learns new vocabulary or creates connections between previously learned information and the text in front of him/her, that student is undertaking an extraordinary task.
I believe if my students were given an hour to read every school day, their curiosity would be sparked, their empathy would increase, and their academic performance would rise. Reading time is precious and we do not give it enough stock.
But, more importantly, reading is a new frontier and as Wolf adds, “…when reading takes place, that individual brain is forever changed, both physiologically and intellectually.”
Reading is the most noble task we can give our students.