Why should students read nowadays?

Five minutes
A TFA Community Member Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Sometimes an invention can seem so obvious that we forget we haven’t always had it. Toilet paper comes to mind.

While some people may argue in favour of sliced bread, the best invention in the world, to my mind, is reading.

“It would be great to express my thoughts for others to look at, process and understand.”

Full marks to the person who had that thought.

Unfortunately, as those on the coalface of teaching will recognise, reading seems to have gone out of vogue.

Perhaps the proliferation of media content means that students can occupy their own digital niche. They are no longer forced to grapple with the world around them when they can choose what world they want to let in.

Whether it’s YouTube videos or Netflix, the fragmented media landscape has left books in the rear-view mirror.

It would be a shame if books went the way of a rotary telephone: you definitely know what it is, but it’s ceased having any practical use except as a prop in an English murder mystery.

During parent/teacher interviews this year, my main advice to higher performing students was simple.

“You need to read.”

It is becoming increasingly important.

First, comprehension is linked to vocabulary. If students don’t have sufficient vocabulary, their reading comprehension decreases and they are not able to use words like flotsam and jetsam, which are quite fun to write. Reading increases students’ ability to write, verbally communicate and think.

Second, reading increases knowledge. The more information students have, the more information they’re able to draw upon in their studies. This, in turn, increases their critical thinking skills.


As teachers, it is our obligation to encourage this skill, not least because it also fosters concentration and tranquillity in a world lacking in both.

In a world where content is king it has never been more important to foster not just a love of literature but also the joy of solace.

A few years ago, the New York Times reported that a new word has emerged in the English vocabulary: ‘sofalising’.

This is an emerging trend whereby people communicate with friends from a laptop or smart phone on the sofa rather than chatting in person or at a café.

So what becomes of the student who, during their 3 hour VCE exam, gets anxious because they can’t send a sad face emoji to their best friend after reading Question 1?

It has become trite to state that we are living in a ‘golden age’ of television. Whilst that’s true, it overlooks the fact that we’re living in a golden age of reading. Never have books been better or more readily available.

Ever since Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood in 1965, the non-fiction novel, now festooned with sources wanting to shape the historical narrative, have boomed.

Deep down, most people think they have a novel in them. Some even write them. This burgeoning rate of publication has been dubbed the ‘information explosion’, and why not?

Who doesn’t love information?

But above all, words are beautiful, especially in the service of a story.

Readers are voyagers.

They’re historians.

They can travel through space.

They’re poets.

They’re curious onlookers.

They’re active citizens.

They’re really good at trivia nights.

Readers can travel through time.

You can get any book, on any topic, at any time. My credit card would be looking a lot healthier were it not for that fact. I suspect I’m close to an equity owner of Book Depository at this point.

So why is it difficult to get students to partake in this quiet pleasure?

There is a simple joy in reading and it should be encouraged. Brendan Murray and Maddie Witter, two pioneers behind Parkville College, have it as a central literacy strategy in their ‘school behind bars’.

It does not matter someone’s background. Reading is a joy.

Reading can’t become a lost skill. It must continue as an enduring pleasure. It could not be more important in this digital age.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go check Twitter.

A Non-Exhaustive List of Excellent Books:

Pop Psych:
What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell

In the Garden of Beasts, by Eric Larsen

World War II:
Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose

World War I:
The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War, by Christopher Clark

The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert

The War for Late Night, by Bill Carter

Whitewash to Whitewash, by Daniel Brettig

Non Fiction Anthology:
The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, by David Grann

The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson

Global Financial Crisis:
Too Big to Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin

Boomerang, by Michael Lewis

Game Change, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann

Washington DC culture:
This Town, by Mark Leibovich

Bush Administration:
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the Whitehouse, by Peter Baker

Wes Anderson:
The Grand Budapest Hotel, by Matt Zoller Seitz

How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough
Building a Better Teacher, by Elizabeth Green          

Continue reading

Learn more about Teach for Australia, our programs and our cohorts.