However, it is a timely moment to reflect upon a project that encourages our children to develop a love of reading.
Two years ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg set himself the target of reading a new book every two weeks. This was interesting and proved the old adage that we should not ‘judge a book by its cover’, as we are only too aware of the distractions that social media apps can be to all of us when faced with a challenging essay or a tricky mathematics problem. Zuckerberg stated at the time that ‘Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books’. It’s very encouraging when pioneers promote the benefits of reading. Scientists agree it’s very good for you too – a kind of ‘mental workout’. Reading affects the function of our brains. Tackling a challenging text creates high levels of electrical activity as we try to make sense of language. When you’re immersed in a book and reading about a character that’s doing an activity such as running, your brain responds as if you the reader was also running.
Reading books also brings many other benefits. This includes improving your focus and attention as you need to concentrate more on reading (than for example, scanning your FB page). It also helps you to develop a wider vocabulary and this in turn can improve your own communication skills. So it’s an ideal way for our students to develop their academic prowess in an enjoyable and meaningful way. Reading also develops your imagination and a greater appreciation of the arts, as well as ways of improving the world. How? Research shows that people who read for pleasure are many times more likely to visit cultural attractions, and much more likely to perform voluntary work. Readers are active participants in the world around them, and that engagement is critical to individual and social well-being.
Reading improves your memory, simply because you have more time to think than you might in a conversation or through watching TV. It also reduces stress (by lowering your heart rate and easing tension in muscles) as well simply providing a means of entertainment.
Authors themselves have different views on the benefits of reading. Anne Lamott, US novelist and non-fiction writer suggests of books: ‘What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.’
Further into March, our English department has planned engaging activities to celebrate the importance of literature – including a ‘Dress-Up-Day’, an examination of ‘banned’ books and an inter-form ‘Design-a-Door’ competition. In the meantime, we have an abundance of literature available in the secondary school library and students can access this at many points during the school day. Given the prescribed benefits of reading, and with the short school holiday approaching, perhaps now is an opportunity for some of us to engage in reading a good novel.
There are many other events taking place in the coming weeks, both for students and parents – you can access our school calendar to find out more details, but I look forward to another term full of rich experiences and challenge for our students.
Andrew Lancaster, Head of Secondary