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Reading to Learn: Turning Kids into Lifelong Learners
Along about third grade, children reach a level of reading competency which allows them to read independently for the purpose of gathering information and learning new skills. At this point, a whole world opens up to them. They are developing the tools to pursue interests of their own, and wise teachers and parents will take advantage of this phenomenon to build on their children’s educational success.
Poetry and fiction are always favorites among children: case in point, the unprecedented success of the “Harry Potter” novels. But kids are thirsty for knowledge about people and places around the world, as well as history, science, math, and art. A varied collection of books and magazines in the classroom will keep exciting information at students’ fingertips. A scheduled weekly trip to the school library, with lessons on how to find books and research specific topics, offers skills that children will use throughout their school career and beyond. Kid-friendly online search engines provide more opportunities for students to research their favorite interests.
Targeted book reports and a plan for integrating the curriculum can help expand learning for every member of a class. For instance, say the kids in a classroom are studying Greek mythology; providing a variety of books and magazines on the topic, as well as on the history, social structure, scientific and mathematical concepts, and literature of ancient Greece can be the basis for an exciting group learning experience. Children can choose a book or magazine article and write a report to present to the class; other children can write poems or short stories based on what they’ve read, or paint or draw pictures. These creations can be presented to the class during a sharing time, and then, using a computer and printer, copied and distributed to every member of the class so each student can create a book or notebook of the work of the entire class. Students may want to expand on their work by illustrating another child’s report or poem, or by writing a story based on someone else’s drawing. Additional topics can be chosen for independent research, and the end product can be put on display for other students’ use in the classroom, and even for inclusion in the school library.
Learning on display: a great motivation for lifelong learning
Displaying students’ work in the classroom and the school library helps create an environment where learning is valued and the learner recognized; looking beyond the school environment can bring an entire community into the process. Consider creating a place in the local public library where children’s work can be displayed, and work with the librarians to create student readings. A local for-profit or public access TV station may also find it valuable to cover school events which incorporate student works; by middle school, children may even be in a position, properly supervised, to help produce public access programs about their school. Particularly in areas where schools have trouble motivating students to learn, this kind of public exposure can only help excite children (and their parents) about their school and their own learning process.
It’s important in any project involving student learning that kids of all ability levels are included; books and magazines need to reflect the varying abilities of the children in a class, and if a class is going to focus on public display of student work, then all levels of work need to be respected and presented in a dignified manner. Students involved in the production end of creating a classroom book on a particular topic can be credited in the book; children who contribute to a public access program can receive an on-screen credit. The idea is to praise both the work process and the creative end product of learning activities, and to give kids the idea that their learning, and their effort, matter.
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