I am currently enrolled in a course on teaching writing and during this course the class is reading the book, In the Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher. In his book, Kelly discusses some of the strengths and weaknesses of the current Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.
I’m a big fan of Gallagher and in the past have read his other books, Teaching Adolescent Writers and Write Like This. He talks often about his experiences in the ninth grade English classroom and I sympathize with him on various levels about student apathy, concerns, and achievements.
This week I was doing my reading to prepare for the course when I stumbled upon an idea which really resonated with me.
This is a quote within a quote from the book:
“In his study, ‘In the Minds of Others,’ Keith Oatley, professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, notes that recent research has found that
“ far from being a means to escape the social world, reading stories can actually improve your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings.” (2011, 1)
So often we hear the term “book worm” to describe someone who has developed an affinity for reading. This misnomer has carried with it a negative connotation. I’ve even heard other teachers use such negative language to describe students who consistently carry books to and from class. Readers can get a bad reputation from the rest of society. They are sometimes labeled antisocial, but the quote above points to the very opposite meaning.
One of my favorite pastimes is to sit at home near the fire place in the living room and read. I’ll even call it romantic when my husband sits beside me on the sofa and reads his own book as well. Because at the end of the day we share what we have read about. The people we have interacted with through reading. The lessons we learned from the stories we experienced. And there is nothing antisocial or negative about it.
People miss out on truly social experiences by choosing not to read. Reading provides us such unique opportunities to be a part of another life or time period that we may never otherwise experience.
I’m not saying every couple needs to be like me and my husband and bond through reading. Rather the point I am trying to make is that reading is not the negative experience that so many people have painted it to be. When I ask students why they are reluctant to read on their own I get responses like, “I would rather play games,” or, “My friends are more fun.” Although they may enjoy gaming and spending time with friends, reading can also be as much fun and engaging as both of those activities.
All of this to say, that just because someone enjoys reading does not mean that they are a book worm. It is indeed possible to read often and be a social butterfly. Reading can add authenticity to your social interactions outside of books and helps to develop the social skills needed for relating to others. By losing yourself in a good book you are setting yourself up for social success and training your mind for intellectual growth.
Oatley, Keith. 2011. “In the Minds of Others.” Scientific American Mind.
Gallagher, Kelly. 2015. In the Best Interest of Students. Stenhouse: Maine.