How schools leave leisure reading by the wayside

Communication skills at risk without independent reading

Independent reading is key for honing effective communication skills.
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Educators need to find more effective ways of encouraging literacy and independent reading among students.

In the modern workforce, the ability to communicate effectively is incredibly valuable. Even as workplaces become more virtual and computer-based, every sector requires clear written and verbal communication to increase efficiency and productivity.

It stands to reason that the effective use of written and spoken language should be emphasized in all education systems. That being said, outside sources—such as books and newspapers—can be invaluable tools for honing young people’s communication skills by expanding their literacy and vocabulary.

The target of literary education should be giving students the desire to read and write outside of class. But the way English and literature classes are designed often encourages the exact opposite—indifference for reading for pleasure and little desire to improve linguistic communication.

It’s unfair to say any pitfalls in English language or literature classes are the sole reason for communication deficiencies. There are always going to be students who excel at, and pursue, math or science instead of arts and language—and that won’t be altered by a change to curriculum. Similarly, there are also students who pursue reading and language despite the potentially fraught lesson plans.

But this doesn’t change the fact there are systemic problems with literary education that reduce interest in reading outside of class.

One issue that causes students to avoid reading for fun is the overuse of mandatory readings. It’s difficult to graduate high school without being forced to read assigned texts, either individually or out loud in class. This isn’t an issue in itself—learning to effectively read and write requires instruction only professional educators can provide.

However, the content of mandatory class reading lists contributes to a decline in extracurricular reading.

The selection of readings students are asked to study not only cuts down on time to read outside of class but it also provides students with a limited selection of similarly written books on topics they may not be interested in. This lack of freedom in reading material can stifle a student’s desire to explore the literary world and stop them from reading for fun.

The methods of critical analysis taught in classes also make the readings themselves less enjoyable. While it’s important to teach critical analysis of written works, it’s often so drawn out that excessive inspection dwarfs genuine interest. Forcing students to dissect plots, themes, symbols, and literary devices can suck the pleasure out of reading—it becomes an intense, analytic endeavor instead of a relaxing pastime.

The ways books are tested on also fails to improve students’ communication skills and downplays the benefits of reading. Exams require excessive analysis, and they test how well a student can remember arbitrary plot devices instead of whether they can communicate effectively. By only teaching students to regurgitate readings, exams don’t show students how reading can benefit them in the real world.

The world recaps benefits when everyone can communicate effectively, and the path to effective communication involves regular reading to expand vocabulary and literacy skills. Educators at all levels need to begin encouraging independent reading to create these skills, instead of hindering it.

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