Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A College Instructor's Advice To Parents of Middle and High Schoolers




That's the one thing my kids just don't do. (My college kids. Not MY kids. I punish MY kids by taking away their books. And it, like, works.) Undergrads just don't read.

And it's the one thing that covers over a multitude of intellectual gaps.

They may hate history, but if they read historical novels, they'll pick up a little of it. They may hate Shakespeare, but if they read history, they can get a sense of who he was and how he was important. They may hate philosophy or ethics, but if they read Sci-Fi, they'll get a little taste of political and social theory. They may hate grammar, but if they read, they'll see it in action and they'll absorb some of it. They may hate doing science experiments, but if they read about science, they'll at least keep up with scientific advances and they'll know what a scientific argument sounds like.

Reading, reading, reading.

Are you worried about preparing your kids for college? What classes they take matters, yes. Extra-curricular activities aren't a bad idea. Test prep matters more than it should. But the most effective preparation is reading.

Let them read. Make them read. Pay them to read. (I'm serious. It appears to work.) Fiction. History. Sci Fi. The newspaper. Time, or the Economist. Just. read. something.

Thinking about what they read is the other thing my students don't do. They don't know how, because they don't even know how to summarize what they've read. And summarizing is the first step to analyzing. Having to organize your thoughts enough to tell someone else about it (verbally or in writing) is the first step to thinking, really thinking, about it.

So make your kids write about what they read. Pay them for their reading, only after they've written for you a basic summary of the book. Have them start a blog expressly for writing about their reading. Or have a family blog where you all talk about what you read!

Teach them the difference between formal and informal writing, if you have time. The blog format is good for that, too. You can make them use correct grammar, even in an informal style. And then whenever they're writing a formal assignment, you can say, "Well, that would be perfect on your blog, but in formal writing, you should . . . "

Honestly, if you do those two things, reading and writing, you are setting them up for permanent, lifelong success, no matter what your scope and sequence look like, no matter what high school they go to, no matter what their test scores are.

They will not fail to get into a good college if they are widely read and if they can construct sentences with basic grammar and if they can chain sentences together into coherent thoughts.

And even if they don't go to college, they'll be better at EVERYTHING they do than people who don't read. They'll read their mortgage contracts with more intelligence. They'll recognize specious political arguments (unless all they read is specious political theory). They'll persuade their bosses and co-workers more effectively. They'll sound more intelligent in interviews.

They won't be able NOT to.

Trust me. I'm seeing what your kids do when they leave your house.

I can tell the readers. I really can.

(I can also tell the ones that had to do chores when they were growing up. But that's a matter for another blog entry.)


Anonymous said...

I have a friend who claims she aced US History in college thanks to having read Gilbert Morris's House of Winslow series in high school...

Granted she was a history major and interested in the material as well - but I do think its an important point - anyway you can get the brain cells working and thinking is going to be a benefit (and in the case of historical fiction/history - every bit you get in there somewhere else does help)

I just don't understand college students who don't read... I run into it all the time as a academic librarian, but hey - I made time to read in college...its all a matter of what you prioritize... But then I was like your kids - I probably had books taken away as punishment as a kid, and I was never sent to my room because what kind of punishment would that be?

GodSeeker said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I'm a home educating mother to 5 kids and we MAJOR on reading and we're beginning to do a little writing as well, with plans for much more. (Please don't tell the kids.) Your post is so encouraging!

Sarah said...

Thanks, GodSeeker, for your kind words! Happy Mother's Day!

And yes, Anon., you're right--ANY kind of reading helps, at least a little. I read complete and utter crap in high school, but I read. If nothing else, it meant that the act of sitting down to read a book I was interested in didn't, like, hurt. They can't even sit still, some of my students.