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The Magic Pill?

     By Sandra Selling




The Magic Pill

Would you help your student find time for a single activity that, if practiced daily for 30-45 minutes, strongly correlates with the following benefits?

  1. Improved reading comprehension.
  2. Developed ability to enjoy reading. 
  3. Increased vocabulary.
  4. Enhanced writing ability.
  5. Raised standardized test scores.
  6. Expanded knowledge of the world.
  7. Accrued wisdom. 
  8. Enlarged capacity to think and reason, both now and as an adult.
  9. Increased employability as an adult.
  10. Raised income as an adult.
  11. Increased cultural and civic participation as an adult.
  12. Doubled probability of performing volunteer or charity work as an adult.
  13. Almost 50% greater likelihood of voting as an adult.
  14. Increased participation in sports, sporting events, and outdoor activities as an adult.


NOTE:  While support for the above correlations is found throughout the research literature listed in the bibliography at the end of this article, Sullivan, et. al, 2007, is a single research review providing support for the majority of benefits listed above.


While “correlation” certainly does not indicate “causality,” correlation with such a broad range of advantages demonstrated across a spectrum of research surely demands one’s attention.  One might even conclude that such a “magic pill” is indeed worth some sacrifice to attain.


What is this unique activity?  This magic pill?  It is reading for pleasure!  For many parents, this is excellent news because their children love to read and do so regularly.  For others, this news is incredibly disheartening because they feel they are either losing or have already lost the battle to instill a strong desire to read in their students. 


The startling and unfortunate fact, however, is that both groups have a reason for alarm.  Although few other factors have a greater impact on a student’s success in a wide range of endeavors as the amount of his or her daily voluntary reading, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that, in America, such reading decreases dramatically during the teen years of 13-17.


For this reason, early English classes with Inspired Writing and Literature focus on nurturing and building life-long readers, who love to read. Students who don’t read regularly never learn to read well enough to enjoy it.  Students who do read regularly gradually begin to dread it when faced with an endless stream of assigned reading and book reports on topics that don’t interest them.


As Kelly Gallagher points out in his book Readicide, how much would we enjoy a movie that we were required to pause every five minutes to record a thought or to answer a question? Or worse, perhaps, how much would we enjoy a movie in which we were forced to stop entirely after every scene and write a detailed paper?  Students are no different when they read.  They can quickly become part of that dramatic decline in voluntary reading in the 13-17-year-old age group and lose the benefits such reading brings. Students must learn close reading and annotation skills, of course, but we must also take care to nurture and encourage their delight in the story.


Thus, our early classes reflect features that research has shown to be important in maintaining students’ desire to read, just a few of which are –


  1. Student choice of reading material (with parental  oversight)
  2. Fostering student interaction about their chosen books through a range of activities that build a reading community and sense of accountability.
  3. Minimal disruption to the reading process from tedious worksheets and notetaking.
  4. Reading instruction to increase comprehension and engagement in reading a variety of genres that are required to function as well-informed, engaged citizens of a democratic society. 
  5. Encouraging time devoted to reading.


In addition to this self-chosen literature, it is also vital that students read more challenging material that stretches them beyond their comfort zone and requires instruction for them to comprehend and appreciate fully.  Therefore, in addition to their self-chosen reading, students read two to three classics as a group each of these beginning years.   See Literature for the philosophy and focus in these sessions and in upper-level high school classes.


Is more reading a magic pill?  Perhaps not entirely. Reading does take a bit more time than a quick swallow.  However, the benefits for our students are certainly worth a reordering of priorities if necessary. They might just be more valuable than an additional credit or extra-curricular activity we decide to sacrifice to cultivate this daily habit.









Literature Option 2 - One additional English credit, no additional charge (Highly recommended for students who have room in their study schedules for an additional credit):  During the 2016-2017 school year only, Inspired Writing and Literature English students who are ready for high school reading selections may also choose up to four literature units of 2-10 weeks, each focusing on a single work of classic literature or collection of poetry.