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Reading is an essential skill to learning

March 4, 2012


Several circumstances that unfolded over this past week has brought to mind something critical. That something has I believe become redundant in the next generation’s list of activities.

It first surfaced from my consciousness on Monday when I caught the Gautrain to Hadfield, Pretoria to meet well-loved PRH faciltator Dick Broderick MSC. The Gautrain’s North – South line (Rosebank to Hadfield) has only been in  operation a good 6 months after the Airport to Sandton line was opened in time for the Rugby World Cup in July 2010.

It was time for me to take the 35 minute journey.

True to form I arrived on the spotless and somewhat stark  Rosebank platform to board the Gautrain. In the immaculately kept carriages embarked a fair number of students who I presumed were heading for lectures at either TUKS or UNISA. All of the one’s I saw were either BB Messaging or listening to their ipods or some other  super-charged item of  technology that clearly transported these commuters into a private world that shut out the rest of us.

I was catching up with a compilation of Stephen King’s short stories titled: “A season of Short stories” in preparing for a lesson on English literature for a grade 9  learner when I glanced around. No one was reading…not a newspaper, not an article, not a document, not a book…paperback or hard cover,  neither an academic textbook…nada. Trite Techno Travelling was the order of the day.

I stared out the window and was fascinated to see the highrise, high density development that was invading the landscape as we passed by in the blink of an eye. Functional technology certainly does have its compensations.

On Wednesday in the sweltering heat of this rather unstable end to summer, I welcomed a grade 9 pupil to my Afrikaans session on Letterkunde. I insisted we read the poem several times to get the gist of it, before tackling the analysis of both the content and the figures of speech embedded so surreptiously in the verses. “Why do I have to read it so many times?” the learner wailed. The act of reading apparently a mammoth task to impose on a grade 9 pupil. “What’s so hard about reading a 5 stanza poem?” I inquired testily. “I hate reading” he answered huffily, “it’s so boring…!”. The last few  words escaping from his mouth as if the wind had been beaten out of his sails.

On Thursday I was caught in the most offensive traffic snarl imaginable. A two lane arterial route between Rivonia and Bryanston was blocked by a long-haul  truck (carrier), with 7 brand new cars secured to its mobile platform, which remained stationary while a hell-bent ambulance wheedled its way across the long line of stationary traffic imposing any restriction of movement for 45 minutes. I found myself reading every outdoor sign, every placard strapped to the street-lined trees as well as glancing at the construction site boards detailing new property developments in the area. Thus I whiled away my time reading.

When I eventually arrived at the home of my learner in Sundowner, (near the Coca Cola Dome), I thought that I might catch my breath by having my learner read to me the comprehension that she had failed. In this way I could see where she had gone wrong in answering the questions.This was met with a stony stare. It turned out she had been unable to read the comprehension with any notion of understanding it. Even more disconcertingly, she had been unable to read the questions accurately.

Herein lies the rub of my gripe. The sheer laziness and lack of competency that the next generation show in being willing and able to read.

A South African National survey on Higher Education that was published in the Business Day  newspaper on the 11th of January this year  (2012) clearly stipulated that any learner wishing to matriculate with reasonable results needed to read and write in both English and Afrikaans/ Zulu albeit for only 15 minutes every day of the school week.

The act of reading is not only essential to passing matric. Reading is obligatory to cultivate vocabulary and in particular the attainment of erudite levels of vocabulary, syntax (word order and proper grammatical application) and is the very vehicle for providing “meaning” and “accuracy” when one reads. There is no “one-size fits all” as promoted by cheap retail, but rather every foot needs its own sock, so put your foot in your mouth and be sure to read before you speak.

Reading takes practice both on a physiological, psychological and neurological level. The art of reading becomes internalized when the joy of reading is attained.


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