Roughly a month into Independent Reading, I like to check in with all of my students and ask, in a very Carl Anderson way, “How’s it going?” You can view the details of that Notebook Entry here, but I basically ask students to tell me what they think and how they feel about their experience with Independent Reading so far.
The one aspect of the Notebook Entries that I really like is that high school students tend to be unapologetically honest when you ask for their opinion. The 100+ “How’s it Going” responses that I have read this fall range from considering the initiation of Independent Reading a spiritual enlightening, to praising it for eliminating stress, to wishing it would just go away so that there would be more time for Netflix. However, the vast majority of responses are overwhelmingly positive. Students are loving Independent Reading. I know this because they are not afraid to tell me otherwise.
One entry that really stuck with me is from one of my 11th graders. She writes:
“I feel like I am the main character…I feel all of the emotions that the main character is feeling and that’s why I cry when they cry and laugh when they do.”
I love what reading has done for this student and how she describes her involvement with books. Studies have been done in 2011 and 2013 citing the impact of specific authors on empathy, but I see this actually happening in my classes with pretty much any author of fiction. This one student’s response is proof that it almost doesn’t matter WHO you’re reading as long as you ARE reading. The experience of reading about the world of the characters causes you to become a part of it – each time you open the book you are a voyeur of their actions, decisions, and consequences. Even though the characters are fiction, their responses are very human, and because you are human, your emotions are triggered too.
Students also talk about reading having a calming effect that reduces stress. I am pretty sure that I cited a study from the University of Sussex before, but what I want to highlight here is that their finding that “distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart” was also discovered by my student. In the same Notebook Entry she writes,
“I love the in-class reading time because I know that when I walk into class, I will have 10 minutes of whatever adventure the main character is on.”
Many students talk about appreciating this escape and how they love when they are wrapped up in the world of the character. I would love for their experiences with books to reach the level that it has for my 11th grader who I keep quoting here. I hope that each of my students experiences a wholly encompassing empathetic involvement with a text. I hope that they lose themselves in a story, in a character, in a situation, and find themselves thinking and feeling about situations outside their actual lives. My junior “likes to describe [herself] as an emotional reader.” Based on all of the advantages this offers, I hope the rest of my students are eventually able to describe themselves this way, too.