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Three Real Reasons to Read Fiction

I read everything. The best in every genre has something to offer, even if the overall genre doesn’t match my core tastes (after all, at its heart Anna Karenina is a romance novel…). Thus it always surprises me when people proudly say, “I only read nonfiction.” The result of bad experiences in high school English courses? Perhaps, but I also wonder whether they’re aware of what fiction has to offer:

  1. The Truth.
    I once had the great privilege of attending a writing seminar taught by Madeleine L’Engle. Perhaps best known for A Wrinkle in Time,she won awards for both her fiction and nonfiction books. She pointed out that often through fiction, the truths about human motivations and the causes of events, both personal and historical, can be much more deeply explored and conveyed than in nonfiction. Nonfiction, remember, is written from a point of view that doesn’t convey all sides of an issue, event or idea. If learning truth from fiction seems crazy, try The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. It’s a deep exploration of the mindsets, motivations and emotions of the generals on both sides at the battle of Gettysburg.
  2. Emotional Intelligence. Studies are showing that reading fiction increases our ability to empathize with others, one of the key components of emotional intelligence that is tied to overall leadership success. Fiction helps you step into other people’s shoes and understand why they did what they did. As more research concludes that the “soft skills” of leadership are truly the hardest to learn, adding high-quality literary novels to one’s reading list may make more sense than another tome on leadership (the ones I’ve written being an exception, of course!)
  3. Creativity. Let’s trust Einstein on this one–he recommended that to develop a scientific mind, children should read and reread fairy tales. Why? Because true science requires imagination, creativity, and a drive to understand, all of which are found in fairy tales. You’ll be hard-pressed to find careers that don’t require creativity these days–even assembly line workers are encouraged to and rewarded for finding ways to improve systems and processes. Fiction allows you to envision what might happen, what might be, and other big what if’s in ways that nonfiction can’t.
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Is Our “Gold Standard” for Education Research the Right Standard?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst grade students show improved performance with a reading intervention. But what about their enthusiasm for reading? And, have they improved on isolated skills or on being able to comprehend, analyze and use/appreciate the information?

Fifth grade students taught with a new mathematics curriculum show better ability to multiply and divide fractions. But do they understand the concepts? Can they come up with real-world illustrations of what  3 1/2 / 4/5 really means?

Eighth grade students show mastery of more science concepts when online teaching modules are used to supplement curriculum. But are they developing curiosity, a necessity for great scientists? Are they learning the lab techniques necessary for meaningful research? What about measures of their creativity? Are they increasing or decreasing?

Right now I’m seeing a great deal of research showing improvements that are:

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Are You a Wild Reader? If Not, Read This!

RIW

Do you worry about reading emergencies–getting caught waiting somewhere without a good book in hand?

Do you have to-read lists, piles, shelves, and/or book cases?

Do you have a reading plan–what you’ll be reading next, what title you’re saving for vacation, how you’ll proceed when your favorite list of award winners is announced?

You do? Oh, can we share title recommendations? Please???

You don’t? You think you don’t have time to read? Or that reading simply shouldn’t be a priority right now?

Then Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kelly is for you. Really. Yes it was written for educators, but its message is for all of us: Reading opens doors. Reading improves our brain power. Learning to love reading means cultivating key habits. It’s never too late.

Chances are your local library has a copy of this brand-new book that most members of my professional learning network devoured the instant it came out this month. If any of the following reasons are keeping you from going wild over reading, know that its pages contain solid advice,

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Caution: Use as Directed!

Me, a lover of Shakespeare, at the site of the original Globe Theater
Me, a lover of Shakespeare, at the site of the original Globe Theater

I was just 10 years old when I attended my first Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. My guess is that buying a ticket for me was cheaper than hiring a sitter. There I was, though, up in the first row of the balcony of Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater with one of my big brothers, watching Shakespeare.

I didn’t understand a single word of the first scene. I was not some sort of geeky, born-to-love-Shakespeare genius. I was truly wondering if staying awake was going to be worth it.

And then—something clicked in my brain. The language, the gestures, the plot, even the humor made sense. Katherina, Petruchio, Gremio, Bianca all came alive. It just took awhile for me to catch on.

My point? Shakespeare wrote his plays to be watched, not read.

When they’re well acted (huzzah for Kenneth Branagh and St. Crispin’s), students can enjoy them as intended. On paper, the words are foreign, stilted. Spoken, they can work their magic. Listen to a couple of examples of how Shakespeare sounded in the original to see what I mean!

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