BY VICTOR OCHIENG’
In the recent past, when the Cabinet Secretary (CS) of Education, Professor George Magoha uttered a controversial statement concerning class readers, which should be read by Form Ones, some of us who believe in the power of the written word were shell-shocked. While addressing a presser pertaining Form One admission, the CS pointed out that these fledgling learners could report to school without class readers. Of course, this proclamation dealt a devastating blow on the reading culture among students which some of us have been pushing for with a lot of zeal and zest.
For the sake of rehash, some of us, while in STD 7 and 8, teachers of English introduced us to the wonder of the written word through the voracious reading of story books. Our noble teachers impressed upon us to read at least one story book per week and pen a simple synopsis. At that nascent state, we thought it was a punishment meted on us.
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Again, in secondary school, we met legendary teachers of English who urged us to visit the bookstore – borrow books – and read them avidly. That is how we prepared to wrestle with great KCSE set texts in Form Three and Four. During our time, we read: the River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen and Shreds of Tenderness by John Ruganda.
Somehow, some of us who developed the heroic culture of savouring class readers and KCSE set texts, honed skills like writing, which enhances peak performance in English as a core-career subject. We also passed with flying colours in other subjects, because we read widely. With that rate of reading, we hardly thought of cheating in exams.
We simply ascertained, students who evince excellence, avidly read: Class readers, KCSE set books, well-written notes, sacred scriptures and self-help books. For from years of yore, to these times and climes, it is how students position themselves for stunning success in school – and life after school. For the late Charlie Jones, a personal development legend, taught: You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet, and the books you read. Also, business guru Brian Tracy once observed that whenever he interviewed a prospective employee, one of the first quality question he would pose was: What is the last book you read? I am guessing that the answer had a lot to do with how long the rest of the interview would last, and the candidate’s chance(s) of being hired.
In some larger sense, high school scholars understand that developing a strong reading culture entices a lot of bountiful benefits. Reading enhances content mastery and memory. No wonder, students who rise to stardom as academic giants brood on books. It has also been ascertained that reading adds glamour to one’s grammar. A lot of contact with the written word sorts out errors related to subject-verb agreement, spelling, sentence-structure, punctuation, tense and direct translation. Exposure to good books builds one’s word bank. It should never be lost on us that ability to become a better writer or orator, is hinged on good grammar, cogent content and wonderful word choice. Reading avidly is the sweet secret to ingenuity and creativity. People who develop close camaraderie with books, become highly imaginative and innovative. It is also important to note: Books are great sources of education, edification and edutainment. The Chinese say: A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. Judah Ibn-Tibbon also postulasted: “Make thy books thy companions. Let thy cases and shelves by thy pleasure grounds and gardens.”
Finally, before I drop this pen, conviction and conscience tells me that this piece on reading culture will be utterly incomplete if I lock out good and bad reading habits. In Best Academic Practices, Janet E. Gardener writes something sensible in her book titled Reading and Writing about Literature: Reading becomes useful when the reader focuses on five good reading habits like: One, re-reading, which is basically focusing on repetition; the mother of all memories. Two, there is textual marking, where the reader underlines key words, phrases and statements while savouring sweet texts. Three, there is textual annotation, where the reader annotates the text and jots down important points on the margins. Four, is note-making, which entails reading with a note book in close-range, where one can make short notes. Five, is the use of reference material like a dictionary is of great essence.
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In the book titled Spot on Comprehension Skills by Professor Austin Bukenya, Professor Egara Kabaji, Behan Ashilaka and Angeline Kioko, learners are warned to shun four bad reading habits like: Foremost, there is sub-vocalisation, which is the tendency of pronouncing words while reading. Secondly, we focus on regression, which doubles or triples reading time because it impedes the speed of reading when the reader reads as s/he dithers like a chameleon. Thirdly, there is finger/pointer-reading – the habit of running a finger or a pointer – such as a pen or a pencil over the text being read. The fourth one is head-movement, which happens when readers gyrate their heads left to right as they read. This dwarfs the reading pace to a great extent.
The writer rolls out English Improvement Programmes in schools.
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