Inquiry-based reading (for pleasure) in education

Opinion: At least 20% of students’ readings should come from material which has been chosen by the students themselves.

Why did I choose 20% as the benchmark? I was partly inspired by Google’s now-famous employee policy, called “Innovation Time Off, where Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time on projects that interest them.” This policy was responsible for staple Google products such as Gmail, Google News, and no doubt countless Android applications. When we pursue interests we’re innately interested in, we’re much more likely to gain something from the experience.

When students read what they want to read, they are more engaged in the material and chances are that if something interests them, they’re more like to put effort into learning about that topic, designing projects which reflect that learning, and without even realizing it, they’ll be developing related skills along the way.

And I’m not just talking about K-12 education. When you’re taking classes at a university and your professor gives you a list of assigned readings, just the fact that they’re assigned makes them unbearably burdensome to read sometimes. What if for some proportion of the assignments, we let students choose what they wanted to read? Professors could assign a few things to read, perhaps some online articles which can be commented on in a collaborative wiki format (with highlighting and digital sticky notes to boot!), and then let the remaining readings come from whatever the students read on their own time, for pleasure. Students could be encouraged to then apply what they were reading to the assigned readings, comparing, contrasting, analyzing, and evaluating at a level of engagement they don’t often reach when they’re simply forced to read something.

Reading for Pleasure

Do people even read for pleasure anymore? I’ve noticed in the past year of riding the bus in Vancouver, I’ve seen books slowly being replaced by smartphones, iPods, tablets, and eReaders. Many would argue that they’re still reading – the medium has just changed. And while I can certainly agree with this to some degree, I also agree with the multitude of writers who say that we’re losing something in our transition to the digital age. When we change the form of reading – we change the meaning of the words. It only seems natural that our books will become shorter, shallower, and more distracting – er, interactive. eBooks will have animations, links, and perhaps even advertisements. What does this mean for the future of class readings?

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m going to miss the dog-eared pages, the pencil marks and notes in the margins, and the¬†serendipitous¬†moments provided by used book stores. If Amazon, Google, or Sony can replicate those three things, perhaps I won’t have as hard of a time transitioning to eBooks.

[This last paragraph makes me feel like my grandma when she talks about growing up in the golden age of radio, before the advent of TV.]

 

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