Making Reading an Art !

Kashi Raj Pandey (kashiraj@ku.edu.np)

Texts are full of knowledge that makes us literate with reading. Reading books situates us in a context, in the existing body of knowledge. Through them, we can understand our world better, enrich our minds, enjoy life more fully, and understand unsolved mysteries. The habit of reading, therefore, has established an unconditional necessity in our lives. If followed in a principled way, this habit will not only develop the learners into independent readers, but also saves many teachers from tiring talks.

Talking about reading habits among children, reading is a powerful tool for engaging them in socio-cultural messages, and it should grow in them as they grow up. For children to digest it comfortably, it is better to inculcate a reading habit among them right from the tender age following toddler-hood. The purpose of this paper is to encourage learners to read on their own even outside the school settings, besides taking reading as a classroom activity in isolation.

Purpose of Reading: Is it for life or is it a lesson in isolation?

These days, the majority of students (in Nepal) are not motivated to read anything other than the prescribed textbooks because it is only the textbook that matters in exams. This high dependency on textbooks and exam results are problems to be addressed as early as possible. As teachers and examiners, for us, reducing the gap between learning and evaluation is a great challenge when testing or evaluating is understood as something to trick students. The customary blame we receive as a teacher or question setter is that we still don’t ask questions to students to test what they already (or comfortably) know, but our focus lies on what they have read (comprehensive) as part of what the teachers have taught from the textbook inside the classrooms. The myth of our exam system that revolves around asking questions from within the prescribed textbook is a big hindrance discouraging students from reading culture. Rumors like “janch ma napadheko kuroa ayo ….” and “question bahira bata aayo ….” (Trans.– We didn’t get questions in exam from the text our teacher taught or we had questions from outside the textbook etc.) are still rife and rampant criticisms around us.

When I thought the prescribed chapters of a Grade four Science book a little irrelevant to the child’s age group, I asked a naïve question to my 9 year old child in 2009 about the purpose of reading her subject books. Her reply was, “We have to read everything for two reasons; first, they are in the book and second, our teacher has asked us to read and recite this for us to prepare well for the quiz today”.  She must be amazed to see me asking such a question while she shared that no one had ever asked her for such a personal response to the lessons taught in her school. Then I realized that it is worth knowing our students’ (children’s) real response and plan for the text of their liking and value of their learning.

Many texts are written to “impart effects upon the readers and arouse them for some cause” (Pandey, 2007, p. 66). As a result, the purpose of reading also differs on the basis of why someone reads something. We read in “distinctly different ways for different purposes. Sometimes we do preliminary or exploratory reading rather than whole texts thoroughly”  (Davies, 2008, p. 91).  People read to learn something, to survive, to gain particular information, facts and figures, and most of the time for pleasure.  Reading is an interactive process that goes on between the reader and the text, resulting in comprehension with a purpose to gain information, verify existing knowledge, in order to critique writers’ ideas or writing styles, for readers’ enjoyment, or to enhance the knowledge of the language being read. We read texts at different times in different ways. Texts become a little difficult when we read for study or work while they would become easier if we chose to read them as fun. “When reading a novel, for example we may hardly be aware of the words on the page. The novel simply ‘comes to life’ in your head” (p. 92).  This way, starting with the simple texts most of the time, we step further to read books with more complex concepts and procedures.

Children are curious and they get knowledge from different sources like family interaction, reading books and stories, watching television or visiting new places. Our students constantly characterize two distinct worlds: one represents the school, textbooks, classroom or the teacher and another, that of a world of home, library or other reference books of their interest. Reading, therefore, should generate interest among students that brings the gap closer between the worlds we dwell in while taking a journey within our self and the world around us.

The main reason, according to Collie and Slater (1990, p. 3) which leads a teacher to encourage students in reading books is because they “are valuable authentic material, and they are used for the cultural enrichment, language enrichment and personal involvement”.  Reading, as a way of seeing, forces us to see the world clearly and deeply.  Through books, readers visualize the events unfolding in them, and when a reader (child) effectively describes what s/he has just read, other people who are around, are also able to envision the action and the characters. Hence, shared habits contribute to a collective understanding.

My recent reading from “Raggedy Ann Stories”, a children’s bookby Gruelle (2011), shows the common human quest to understand the world with basic values, lifestyles, beliefs, friendship, forgiveness, self-discipline, and adventure that are not common in the United States today. Books offer culturally specific ways of thinking that can help children build a more complete knowledge of the way things work.  The stories in books provide great lessons for children, teach them proper behavior, and facilitate the building of their characters. Their success in school depends greatly on their ability to read books, which in turn depends on the support we give them in becoming better readers. Children who have the chance to identify with story characters and live into them deeply while they are young may learn empathy for others in the same process.

Something substantial I wish to share

During those initial years of teaching, I came up with an idea in my school and hosted a reading workshop titled “Banking Books in our Habits”. Primarily it was demand based, as I can sense it better now, with its purpose to make the students able to read “Shree SwasthaniBratakatha” to our parents and guardians.  In a broad sense, it was also to encourage children to develop their reading habit by linking it to the existing culture and practices. After that workshop, each day, we had such a forum in our school that all the children in primary level classrooms were encouraged to discuss the part of the story they usually read from SwasthaniBratakatha. For those who did not read the text, they could share anything they heard from relatives, friends and elderly people around. To make it more interesting,I allowed students to twist the subject matter and make up their own stories based on whatever they had read, experienced, or heard.  This way, reading became a common habit among children so as to expand their horizon of the (mythical) world and share their knowledge through stories. Whenever children saw me reading other materials than their course books they used to come and sit beside me, and then ask what it was. I always wish Ihad lent the books to those young minds so that they could also haveread, knowing that they, with curiosity, could have read any book even faster than their teachers.

As a teacher, I do not impose students to read books but always seek good reasons to oblige them to read, which is to read and reflect, to read and share with friends, to read and assimilate, to read and prepare themselves for the classroom discussions. I have been trying to bring the course book to life with other related reading materials and make it work in my classroom.Textbooks therefore,can be used to indirectly present information, engaging the reader in creative and critical thinking.

Steps in Reading

Generally, “there are three stages recommended to make reading more realistic and interesting: Pre-reading, while-reading, and post-reading” (Davies, 2008, p. 92). Pre-reading prepares the learners for what they are going to read. This is where we do context setting;we hold a brief discussion by eliciting ideas from students on the same topic as that of the passage. This is also a warm-up activity like asking questions related to the topic,reviewing titles, section headings, and photo captions to get a sense of the structure and content of a reading selection and asking their experiences relating to the reading text etc. Grellet (2013) shares, “The students will be more ready (and find it easier) to read a passage if they have been prepared by thinking of the potential meanings and possible associations of some of the key words of the text” (P. 66). It happens by explaining the difficult and unseen vocabulary terms, giving questions, showing pictures, making them guess the events in the text, giving a brief introduction to the text, or giving clues and examples. With ample time, teachers can provide multiple opportunities for students to absorb vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and discourse structure as they occur in authentic contexts. While-reading is an extensive reading with the purpose of helping learners understand the textwith.Here, I explain to students the purpose of reading.While motivating the Learners towards extensive reading, Nuttall (2000) suggests to  “choose short books that are easy enough to read quickly and that you will enjoy” (p. 231). Here, I take students along the passage and ask them questions from different angles. At this stage, I listen to most of the students until all students are confident with the text. At last, I read and explain the passage to the students. Post-reading looks for some connections from what the learners have read so that they can suggest meaning based on their own ideas and experiences, making reading a part of their lives. Students can learn more than what is being taught, Nuttall (2000) shares:

by linking them in context. Usually this involved assimilating the meaning gradually, after frequent encounters. In the classroom, students simply do not get enough exposure for this natural assimilation to be possible. Therefore, solution outside the classroom must be found. An extensive reading programme is the single most effective way of improving vocabulary. It is relatively easy to organize, enjoyable for the students and extremely cost effective. (p. 62).

Consequently, most of the time, I encourage students to share their own personal experiences related to the text discussed, or the change or lesson that the text (discussion) brought in them.

Hors d’oeuvre to enhance reading culture: Some insights 

The best way to improve reading skills is to read frequently and to read many different types of texts in various subject areas (sciences, social sciences, arts, business, and so on). Besides books, magazines, and journals, the internet is also one of the sites for finding good resources in improving reading skills. To find stories for our children, books, newspapers, people with traditional stories, religious texts, our personal stories or the stories that the students themselves gather during their project work and the internet (http://storybird.com is an example) are some good resources where we can choose characters and context that children can easily identify with.

Books as a gift or prize

Teachers or parents can update themselves about the most popular, award winning books and recent publications and share this with their class or children, by posting details about said literature in their living room, in morning assembly or on notice boards. The habit of giving books to others as a gift also keeps us up to date. Students can celebrate their birthdays by exchanging books. Our present or gift to someone with some interesting books will convey a message to all on the importance of reading books. This will also motivate the students to read the book they get as a gift or prize and set a strong impression of mirroring the same concept throughout their life.

Library: Setting up a class library, a book corner 

Libraries provide “opportunities for the students to learn about how the world works. They can view maps and photos of far-off lands and oceans, read about their country’s rich history, and begin thinking about whether they’d like to be a doctor or a businessperson or an airline pilot when they finish school. (Wood, 2006, p. 248)

Spending less time looking for the books we require, in libraries we are able to read more books at the same time whenever we need information on certain topics. The habit of using library motivates learners to read with other focused people who are down to serious reading.The library, Wood (2006) adds, brings “a world of opportunities” to our children. Even if our school cannot afford to build a library of readers, we can ask if the students “themselves are prepared to buy a different book each and build up a class library” (Davies,2008, p. 95). From this mission, learners can benefit from various books while they are in school, and they can choose one to borrow and read at home. The unavailability of suitable age or interest based books and reading texts in our homes and schools is a great challenge. To make reading easy for children to access, I propose to set up a class library. It is,Nuttall (2000) shares, “an essential part of classroom life, picked up in spare moments, referred to for information, easily available without making a special trip to the library or waiting for it to open” where a teacher “can keep a closer eye on the books, and who reads what” (p. 133).If a teacher’s aim is to make reading enjoyable, s/he can model a reading in concentration, to make use of books and newspapersavailable around the classroom,and demonstrate that s/he values reading where students “follow the example of people they respect, and above all that of their teacher” (Nuttall , 2000, p. 229). Children enjoy listening to teachers. As they are able to comprehend the existence of printed words, and picture books, it can play an important role in inculcating a reading habit in them. Reading, fortunately in this respect, is a contagious disease and this trend will be transferred to students one after another. We read more when we see other people reading. Miller (2012) reveals “the most crucial factors in effective teaching are who the teacher is and how he acts in the classroom (p. 36).” The teacher thuschannels the discussion being skeptic to it within the purpose by guiding students to the context. Grellet (2013) shares, “when confronted by a new text students should be encouraged to find out its function first” (p. 90). Students, inthis way, participate in discussion with several ideas blossoming in them.Grellet (2013) adds, “Reading is an activity involving constant guesses that are later rejected or confirmed” (p. 56).Reading books from multiple genres, consequently, influences readers for success while actively responding and reacting towards learning.

Orient children on using books and library: Weekly/bi-weekly library visits

Libraries stimulate reading among children. They have been working tirelessly to inculcate and promote reading habits in children. Therefore, we should encourage children to visit librariesregularly where they take advantage of the resources offered. Children should be told that it is their fundamental rights to get a library card, borrow books and other useful materials from the library for free. Children are happy to use their own library cards. We should also orient a librarian for help if children don’t know how to sign up for one. We can start to make children familiar with librariesby giving a folder to every child and taking them to a library as part of their routine. The folders would contain records of activities carried out by every child. Every time a child visits the library, s/he can mark an attendance register. Children have to be oriented how to use books and libraries effectively, how to care for books and libraries; the organization of library resources; types of libraries and information resources stocked; library catalogue and how to use it; library registration process and library ethics.

When they are familiar with books, students visit the library on their own even during leisure hours, hence benefit from the library and reading. In the library, children can engage themselves in various activities which include their independent reading. They will have opportunities to select books of their choice from the library collection. Moreover, every child can be given a book review sheet in which s/he can summarize the book they read each day and share with teachers, friends, or parents. The review is needed to confirm if the books were actually read and understood by them, where children narrate the stories and share what lessons they learnt from such books.

Utilize long vacation with reading books

In the case of Nepal, voluntary reading habits are not common. I envision that even the adults can make the best use of time by reading books while waiting for gasoline and in hospital queues;at a long traffic jam, or while travelling in a bus. Seeing this, children will be encouraged to use their holidayor any other free time by reading books with care and concern.

Book talk, classroom interaction 

Reading is something that students can do at home, I encourage this as much as possible. As children become better readers, we can talk about what s/he is reading. When the child finishes a reading assignment, may it be a new story or adventure tale, we can discuss the main ideas, new words and concepts. We can ask and share her/his favorite section. This helps strengthen the readers’ comprehension skills and encourages students to read by themselves and share what they got from the book. Childrencan engage in reading and other creative things in libraries rather than only engaging in playful things. Hidden talents in children can be discovered and appreciated by teachers and parents. Teachers or schools, after a long vacation, can organize programs such as performing short dramas or storytelling.In the same way, parents can also find a specific time of day to sit together with family members and ask their children to talk about the book they are reading, may it be around dinner time or during morning tea.

“Story time”: Reading together with parents/teachers (as mentors)

When children regularly spend “story time” with mentors, learning to read will be as natural for them as learning to walk and talk. For our children to grow into adults who love reading and respect the value of the printed word, our involvement is essential. In the process of reading with our children, a sense of delight helps tremendously when we make an effort to create a spirit of joy and fun, adventure and wonder. It is a learning activity that develops student’s language and listening skills preparing them to be better readers. Grellet (2013) shares, “The students can be given unfinished passages and asked to propose an ending” (p. 58). It provides a wonderful time for children to spend and enjoy with their mentors – listening to their voices while looking into their eyes and suggesting their own input, the ending. However, we need to be conscious at choosing age appropriate materials that also match their interests. As guardians, we should aim to read with them as often as we can – at least once every day. When we read to more than one child, we can read alone with each childgiving them the chance to choose the book to be read. Thus, it is important that we initiate our efforts to encourage reading in the early years of our student’s life because encouraging older children and teenagers to read is a little more difficult.
Mobile library

The school or concerned authority and interest groups can introduce a mobile library service so that children in disadvantaged areas of the neighborhood that cannot afford books can also be reached. Within our school and classrooms, different book corners and class libraries can exchange books they have collected and share what they have been reading.

Reading, assimilation and Creation

It is important for our children to observe the efforts we put in acquiring reading abilities. If children find reading uncomfortable, we can talk about the pictures in books, newspapers, and magazines with them. Myself, most of the time, I ask our children to read to me or to tell me about what s/he has read in her/his own words. It is equally important that children observe their teachers (and “parents” or their seniors) reading on a regular basis. When a child finds us reading books, magazines, newspapers, recipes, telephone directories, and whatever other reading materials, it will reinforce the importance of reading in her/him.

I keep reading materials throughout the house to stimulate reading in me, in my spouse, and in our children. This has increased our access to books and printed materials. I believe reading can happen anywhere and help everyone to understand that reading doesn’t only happen at school. I have seen students who read outside of classroom be more successful achievers, as it seems what we read is not very important if the reading is able to occupy our interest.

Hence, after children complete their homework and reading, we can allow them to watch television as a reward. By taking these steps in our home, we encourage our children to read beyond the classroom. From reading, children gain life’s pleasures that open many doors to culture, knowledge, confidence and independence. “Reading and writing, if we develop them as a culture, brings tremendous effect in students’ creative ventures with a greater level of imaginative power in writing, thus bringing many contexts in the form of a text” (Pandey, 2011, p. 77). Better writers read more to prepare themselves for good writing, thus better readers produce more mature writing than poorer readers. For those who write book reviews, reading books and writing reviews is a kind of regular process. In their short review, children can give short summaries of books read and indicate the author, number of pages as well as main character or subject matter of the book, the creation. Relating what we read with our life events, the information we acquire from books has a tremendous influence on our perception, socialization and overall human transformation.

Collie, J. and Slater, S. (1990). Literature in the language classroom:    A resource book of 
ideas and activities. Cambridge: CUP.
Davies, P. (2008). Success in English teaching. Shanghai: OUP.
Grellet, F. (2013).Developing reading skills.Cambridge: CUP.
Gruelle, J. (2011). Raggedy Ann stories. Washington: United States Department of State.
Miller, P. (2012). “Ten Characteristics of a good teacher.English teaching forum. Vol. 50,No. 1.
Nuttal, C. (2000).Teaching reading skills in a foreign language. Oxford: Macmillan Heinemann.
Pandey, K. (2007). Writing power. Kathmandu: Nirantar.
Pandey, K. (2011). Journal writing: a means of transformation in teaching – learning practices. An unpublished dissertation of M. Phil. in Education. Kathmandu: Kathmandu University.
Wood, J.  (2006). Leaving Microsoft to change the world. New York: Collins.

(Kashiraj Pandey, an MA in English Literature and M. Phil. in Education, is an Asst. Professor of English at Kathmandu University, Nepal. Mr. Pandey served the institution at the central committee as Training Coordinator (2009-2011), and executive member (2011-2013). Winning Australia Awards from an open competition, he is doing PhD in Teacher Education at Curtin University, Australia at present)


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