This piece was originally published on LaoisToday in March of 2020 as the world was going into lockdown – but its advice and sentiments are still relevant today.
“What can she/he do in order to improve their grade?” is the most commonly asked question at parent-teacher meetings and this is a fact which most English teachers will attest to.
In short, the answer to this is to encourage students to read. However, there is no simple or quick fix solution, especially where Sixth Year students are concerned.
As an English teacher myself, I can spot the bibliophiles from the bibliophobes on the first set of copy take ups of the year!
Their vocabulary is better, their syntax or the way in which they structure sentences is better, the fluidity of their writing and language skills are superior also. As the great Irish writer Edna O’Brien in her imminent wisdom once said ‘every book writes a book’.
Most authors have read vastly over their lifetime, thereby immersing themselves in the art of the language, becoming adepth at creating their own wonderful world of words in the process.
It is similar to the process a child undergoes when learning to speak. They inhale the words and phrases spoken to them, which in turn photosynthesize into their own language or individual form of verbal communication.
They pick up on how sentences are phrased, on vocabulary and the correct context within which to use that vocabulary. Reading develops effective communication skills and is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child in today’s world.
It gives them power, it encourages empathy and critical thinking and it provides them with the ability to handle themselves with dignity and self confidence in almost any situation.
However, this begins at home. As teachers we can only do so much. Yes, we study novels and plays and prepare them for examinations based on those texts.
However, depending on how these are approached, some students can feel as if it is a chore, thereby taking the enjoyment out of it which is a travesty in itself. Which brings me to the point of this article.
Now that we are effectively on lock down and our schools have closed their doors for the time being, it may be the perfect opportunity to encourage your child or teenager to take up reading.
As a child, my mother read to me constantly. I remember vividly one evening in the July of 1985 when there was a horrific thunder and lightning storm.
The power went out, the skies lit up with brilliant bolts of blue and the cattle hid from Thor’s thunderous rampage under the trees. My mother brought myself and my four siblings out into the landing, away from all windows and sources of electricity of course and there, huddled under blankets, she read to us for hours.
The storm in my head subsided at least, as I got lost in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and Enid Blyton’s fantastical fairytale creations.
Ever since, when the literal and metaphorical storms have threatened in my life, I turn to books. Whether it is writing them or reading, they are a source of never ending comfort for me and for my children also.
Statistics show that reading for as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress by 60 %, slow the heart beat, ease muscle tension and alter your state of mind. In today’s current climate of fear and anxiety, this can only be a good thing.
As Oscar Wilde so wisely put it ‘It is what you read when you don’t have to that will determine what you will be when you can’t help it’.
We need this sort of hopeful courage and altruism now more than ever in the face of the many adversities we are up against.
So, aim to make the most of these few weeks by reading stories to your children and by encouraging them to put down the phones and to read themselves.
It will calm and reassure them alongside improving their educational prospects. They too can get lost in their own imaginations and forget about reality for a brief moment in time.
Yes, we all need to be cognizant and alert to the present situation but let’s face it, a little bit of escapism is something we could all do with right now!