Spreading the word

7th January 2011 at 00:00

If you regularly read for enjoyment, you will know the excitement of a book that you simply can't put down. You devour every page, you can't wait for an opportunity to dive into it, you keep wondering how it will end and you are torn between finishing it and savouring the last few chapters like a wine saved for a special occasion. The natural high readers derive from an enthralling plot is like no other experience on the planet.

It's a shame then that Scotland's children, as presented in the recent Pisa survey and reported in The TESS of December 17, read fewer books for pleasure than their international rivals. Our kids spend more time surfing the net and social messaging - it would seem that reading just doesn't have the same seductive appeal. Internet activities are instantly gratifying, whereas reading is often thought to be boring, with the young reader having little hope of being entertained and amused by what literature might offer.

Turning back this ever-advancing tide is a major challenge. Things are not looking healthy for the traditional book format as electronic versions of the published word are readily available. Encouragingly, though, when I asked some youngish teenagers about this, they observed that a paper copy of a book is something special and one of them cited the sheer exhilaration of queuing for the latest Harry Potter at midnight.

John Mitchell of Hodder Gibson eloquently argued in The TESS in favour of Scottish schools being able to negotiate discounts directly with publishers, rather than through a national contracting body (December 10). While not getting into the ramifications of that particular argument, these lean times are a hostile environment for school textbook companies to flourish in. PowerPoint presentations, Smartboard technology, YouTube clips, podcasts, BBC iPlayer and other tools of the modern classroom are brilliant, but even our "web au fait" youngsters can still be thrilled by interesting textbooks.

My Higher psychology pupils tell me that they read beyond the prescribed chapters in their textbooks. This is encouraging, because it means that they are engaging in a love of learning for the sake of it and expanding their horizons beyond what they need to know for the exam - going on their own autonomous hunt for knowledge is much more engaging than merely swallowing facts to achieve a qualification.

Observing pupils grapple with the complexities of Descartes' Meditations is an interesting experience. Of course, it's a challenge and many a sigh will be heard in the classroom. Yet the pupils quite obviously derive satisfaction from teasing out the intricacies of rationalist philosophy. The fact that we read and dissect the text together unleashes their collective confidence as they experience moments of insight. These milestones of light and meaning increase belief in the pupils' ability to understand difficult ideas and I learn new things too.

Hopefully, then, having read a complex text at a comparatively young age, my charges will be motivated to read more. But it's not going to happen in a vacuum. Going back to the cradle - and apologies for chanting the usual mantras - we need to catch them young and inspire them with a love of reading.

Reading for pleasure benefits everyone.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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