JEFF BROOMES: Reading improves your quality of life
READING, TO MY mind, is the gold standard of all skills. The ability to read more impacts one’s contribution to national development than any other skill. My dad was blind for more than 50 years after losing both of his eyes in a fishing accident.
He, during those years, was never able to read any book or any written material. Similarly, my grandmother, with whom I had a very special link, died at the age of 84. Throughout her long life, this hardworking cane field labourer was never able to read or write. Sad but true!
I loved both of those persons, but I also openly admit that their quality of life was noticeably compromised by their inability to read. That’s a fact. I propose that there is absolute congruence between one’s ability to read and one’s manifest quality of life.
In contemporary society, the expansive use of technology and the continual interaction with different cultures, what it means to be a reader has changed. Operational literacy with a focus on comprehension and application now trumps the more traditional mechanical literacy of recognising and reproducing words through simple pronunciation.
Many teachers have spent untold lessons asking children to identify printed words and translate them into oral expression as an acceptable definition of reading. To my mind, if it were not contextualised with a discussion of what meaning it generated to the student, it was a simple case of time-wasting.
Conversely, as parents or teachers, we have read to young ones (our toddlers) who were not able to even call words. This has been an important activity at home and at school. One may question the impact that this has had on personal development and the quest for reading.
The varied tones of the adult reader solicit specific understandings in these children who show obvious reactions that define “happiness, sadness, excitement and so forth”. Hence, the young minds are stimulated and encouraged to fashion some meaning, even if in a limited way.
True reading in contemporary society cannot be defined by word calling. Although the opportunity for development of meaning that this provides is important, that in itself is incomplete as a definition of a reader.
Yes, word identification, word recognition and decoding will assist in determining the pronunciation and interpretation of some meaning of known words (note, I say known words). If these words are new, pronunciation is possible but deduction of meaning is not.
So what really is reading? I am a believer in a definition that coordinates and interrelates previous knowledge, the written word and the deduction of contextual meaning. Deduction of meaning that can impact future action must play a crucial role in any such definition of reading.
As some researchers put it: “Reading is the process of constructing meaning through the dynamic interaction among the reader’s existing knowledge, the information suggested from the text being read and the context of the reading situation.”
Hence, a defined reader must not only understand, but he or she must be able to identify instructions; the reader must be able to follow story lines; the reader must be able to appreciate descriptions, and the reader must be able to follow persuasive arguments.
If I propose that being a reader informs one’s quality of life, I must give supportive evidence. I will in my next contribution. I also reject the notion that there can be a bad reader. You can either read or you cannot. That’s the standard I use as my defining guide!
Jeff Broomes is an experienced educator, principal and community organiser who also served as vice-president of the BCA and director of the WICB. Email: [email protected]