The College Conversation: Why reading, curiosity still matter

September 18, 2010|By Lisa McLaughlin

At most elementary schools, it is recommended for students to set aside quiet time and read self-selected novels a minimum of 30 minutes a day. Some middle schools even "stop and drop" whatever they're doing for a 20-minute reading break in the middle of the school day.

But something happens in high school, and as a former English teacher, I consistently noticed teenagers' abhorrence for assigned reading; it's become a means to an end. They read to write a paper or pass a test, not for the pure joy of it.

Spark Notes, defined as a "resource you can turn to when you're confuzzled," has replaced assigned reading. The Spark Notes website goes on to explain, "Sometimes you don't understand your teacher, your textbooks make no sense, and you have to read sixteen chapters by tomorrow."


I can tell you that most students rely solely on Spark Notes to get through the day-to-day reading assignments.

In honors courses, students are usually assigned heavier reading loads, sometimes up to 50 pages a night. The regular college prep levels often read easier novels, and have a shorter required reading list. In many high schools, absent from the curriculum is assigned, self-selected reading due to the need to get through the required pre-determined novels for a course.

This must change for the sake of encouraging our teens' intellectual curiosity and also for the sake of improving your child's chances for selective college admission. And most of the colleges in our area are highly selective.

When discussing college-readiness with clients, I always raise the question, "Do you read your required English novels?"

Many students tend to squirm at that question, eventually admitting they don't read them at all or simply choose to skim through them, in order to pass the daily comprehension quizzes.

And when I follow up with my next question regarding whether or not they read books for pleasure, the answer is usually an obvious one:

"I haven't read an unassigned book since middle school."

Often, the excuse falls on not having enough time to read what they want. Yet, more and more often, students explain their sheer boredom with reading and lack of interest with the content of the assigned novels. This is a serious issue when it comes to college admission.

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