On my desk right now is a book titled Four Days to Glory: Wrestling with the Soul of the American Heartland. I don’t plan to read it. In fact, I don’t even like wrestling. It’s on my desk waiting for its rightful owner to arrive for his tutoring session next week. He doesn’t know it’s his yet. I do this sometimes for my students, particularly the ones who have come to believe that there is no such thing as interesting reading: I find a book that’s within their area of interest and gift it to them. I don’t know how many of them actually read the books, but I figure if even one does and it helps him see that there is more to reading than boring, forced “school books,” then it’s worth it. I think students have been indoctrinated to believe that there is never an overlap between their interests and the written word. If we can, however, show them some crossover, we may be able to help them become more comfortable with reading in general. The student I mentioned is a bigtime wrestler and I am hoping that he will find in this book a narrative that speaks to his interests. And I think ultimately, that’s the point: finding the right story for the student. Some thoughts on accomplishing this:
Know the Student’s Narrative: Everyone has a story. Knowing the story of your student is hugely helpful not only in building rapport but also in putting yourself in a position to recommend readings. If you have gained trust and established a mutual relationship, then you morph from being a teacher telling a student what to read into something less authoritarian and aloof and thus, more likely to have an impact. The narrative of the student I mentioned earlier is wrestling: he is a state champion and his name is in the paper frequently: he eats, drinks, and breathes wrestling. At the same time, though, he does not like to read. It’s worth the ten bucks spent on the book to potentially give him a portal into reading as a life resource, skill, and (gasp) form of relaxation.
Be a Model: I love the movie Goodfellas. Really, I like most mafia movies and shows. I don’t know why – I just find them immensely interesting. Little did I know the film had been based on the book Wiseguy by Henry Hill, the main character in the movie. Needless to say, I didn’t have to convince myself to be interested in reading this book. I like to share this anecdote with students: essentially, hey there’s a book out there for anything – and I mean anything – you are interested in.
Social Media is Not the Enemy: When you open the Snapchat app, you will find a category called “discover,” under which information outlets such as CNN, Buzzfeed, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, National Geographic and a host of others post “snap stories.” In these stories are short doses of information and readings regarding trending topics. So it turns out that Snapchat can be useful for more than just sending ridiculous pictures of yourself to friends during class. The ongoing stigma that technology is ruining readers is a little extreme if you ask me. The panic-mongers want us to believe that because of their smartphones, kids will never use their brains again. The truth, however, is that social media actually provides a great wealth of opportunities for young people to read and learn. So stop being a hater. Rather, tap into the positives of today’s smarter world.
Your Phone is a Book: We old folks can barely wrap our minds around this, but our phones are basically pocket-sized computers. Whether you use the Kindle app, Amazon reader, Nook, Google Books or something else I haven’t heard of, you are essentially carrying not just one book, but literally thousands, with you at all times. Recently I was waiting to get my car’s oil changed, cursing the fact that I had forgotten to bring a book when I remembered that I was holding a virtual library in the palm of my hand. If invisible, weightless books aren’t a youthful and futuristic idea, I don’t know what is. Not a tough sell to the young and wired.
I have no idea if the student I mentioned at the top of this post will ever read the book I plan to give him, but at the very least, I hope it will plant the idea that books can cover anything and everything and that once you make this realization, the mere idea of “reading” ceases to be so daunting and boring. In fact, it can even align with your personal narrative. Many people believe that we live in an age in which reading will soon be a forgotten activity. I would actually argue the other side of that idea: we now have more ways than ever to engage young people in reading and if anything, done correctly, this can be an easier endeavor than ever before.
Written by Phil Lane