As I was driving through one of the small towns on the way home yesterday, the radio station I was listening to was airing a spot from the local library. The librarian was sharing highlights from a recent book about the impact of technology on reading. Many of her points were ones that I had heard before and even quoted on various occasions; most notably the connection between our current state of decreased attention span and our inability to get completely lost in a book. At times, I find myself a victim of that very reality. These days if I want to become totally immersed in a book, my cell phone cannot be within an arm’s reach.
Her next points were connections I had not pondered. As students are no longer reading fiction (without interruption) at the same rate as past generations, their ability to feel empathy has been compromised. It is through immersing ourselves in fiction that we learn to see the world through the eyes of other characters. I love sharing a read aloud and then asking questions such as, “How do you think the character felt when they ….? Or, “If you were the main character, what would you be thinking at this point in the story? ”Those students who can provide rich responses to such questions have connected with the character on a very special level. They have been able to get inside the mind of the character. Those students tend to be more empathetic and kind towards others.
Uninterrupted reading of fiction also builds our students’ ability to problem solve and critically analyze points of view. Without opportunities to read fiction and thereby travel alongside the characters’ journey ~ experiencing their thought process as they make decision after decision ~ we never get the chance to flex our own problem solving muscles.
A society without people who can critically evaluate various points of view and work through various options can easily fall prey to political rhetoric and thus their opinions can easily be swayed. The implications for democracy are frightening.
With our current state of “technology at our fingers” and competing interest for our student’s uninterrupted time, our job as educators has never been more challenging ~ but when one looks at the alternative, it has never been more important!
What rich fiction story will you read your students tomorrow? What questions will you ask that will create the conditions for them to articulate both empathy and a rich analysis of the how the characters solved a problem.
Come write with me….