May 21, 2013

How Have Books Influenced Your Life?

Since the end of another school year is approaching, you may be expecting an annual post about the importance of summer reading as it relates to student progress. As a proponent of reading during all seasons of the year, I heartily endorse reading during the summer months for students as well as teachers. However, I am hoping that this post will inspire you to examine the influence that reading has had in your own life as well as the potential influence that reading can have in the lives of your students over the course of a lifetime.

Have you ever stopped to think about the influence that reading has had on your life? I mean, have you really contemplated the effect that reading has had on your personality, your day to day actions, and/or your beliefs? Consider it. To expedite your introspection, here is the dictionary definition of the word influence:

in•flu•ence [in-floo-uh  ns] noun the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others

For those of us who read a lot, it is just a matter of time before we come across a book that changes our thoughts, actions, or behavior in some way. Over time, reading literally becomes a life changing experience. I love this quote from Joseph Epstein:

“A biography of any person ought to deal at length with what he read and when, for in some sense, we are what we read.”

you are what you read

Which books would be included in your biography? Part of my personal biography would probably include the book Harriet the Spy. The book had immediate and far-reaching effects in my life. Shortly after reading the book in second grade, I convinced my friends to spy on our classmates at recess and write down everything they said in composition notebooks (aka spy journals). While the practice of spying on people and writing down everything they say did not continue into my adult life (thankfully, since stalking is a crime), to this day composition notebooks remain the repository for my thoughts, feelings, and ideas. I didn’t even remember the reason that I use composition notebooks for my journals until someone asked.

Books that we read can also indirectly influence the lives of others. This has been happening since the advent of the printing press. For example, a book about Marco Polo’s travels influenced Christopher Columbus to attempt reaching Asia by sea via a westward route. As a result, many Americans get a day off every October to celebrate the discovery of America (at the very least, bank employees get the day off).  It is also awe-inspiring to think about the vast yet personal influence books like The Bible, The Qur’an, and the Torah have had in the lives of countless numbers of people.
As teachers, think about books that you have read and how they have influenced your teaching and ultimately your students’ learning. Your influence is also felt when you let them know how reading has changed your life and that it can change theirs too. When you encourage students to read, you are giving them access to the gift of influence.

So, perhaps this summer you could find time to write an autobiography about the books that have had an influence on your life. A mere list of influential books will do, especially if you are too busy reading life-changing books to write an entire biography. What is my advice for summer reading? Choose wisely. We become what we read.

engage struggling readers

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