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My students are just starting to work on a big project. To begin, they have to choose a topic. One of the groups had chosen the very broad topic of literacy and technology. Narrowing it down, they talked about how computers could be used to increase reading comprehension, they talked about developing apps to teach people how to read more effectively or faster or offering speed reading classes to high schoolers, they noted how people are reading a lot of short things but not very much long stuff.

Two of the group mentioned how they had loved to read, and knew that their enjoyment of reading had made them better writers and students. They had noticed that reading wasn't easy for others, that even people in our class struggled to understand chapters in our textbook and succeed on the reading comprehension quizzes. They mentioned how stressful reading passages in the SAT can be for people who are not comfortable with their reading skills, and they wanted to use their project to identify ways to help students become better readers.

They happened to choose a topic that I myself am passionate about. I, too, have been an avid reader my whole life, and mainly because of that, have found being a student relatively easy, writing papers engaging, and taking standardized tests was, well, fun. It's easy to love activities that we are not only good at but have demonstrable real world value. My high test scores impressed lots of people around me, including a lot of adults, so I felt good about myself because of them.

But the reason those tests were easy for me was because of my ability to read quickly and effectively. Years of scanning words on pages had made me a quick reader. I don't say all the words in my head. I glance at the page and take in the ideas, no processing required. This is the result of practice. Similarly, my reading comprehension is high because while reading I can connect the ideas to other ideas in my head. My memory expands as I read because what I am reading relates to things I have read before. For strong readers, reading isn't a passive process of taking in information; it's an active engagement with the material that creates and develops new ideas in the reader's mind.

Reading well is valuable because writing is valuable, because communicating effectively is valuable. We have so many more outlets for writing and connecting, but our ability to use them effectively is lessening as our attention spans shorten, as our comprehension decreases. More and more, people seem to be interested in skimming a few words at a time and then moving on, barely remembering a single idea they just looked at.

As I've said before, reading anything longer than a page and published is good for you. Reading work published before the 20th century is even better for improving vocabulary, sentence structure, comprehension. I've read a lot of old stuff, and it can be boring. I mean, I had to take 15 minute naps for every 20 minutes of reading to get through most of the Dryden, Swift, Richardson, Pope, and other 18th century authors that I had to read in college. It was hard. It was long and slow. I regularly reminded myself that these people didn't have television and reading each other's work was the most leisurely activity available. I would hear Scuttle from The Little Mermaid in my head, "You see the snarfblatt dates back to pre-hysterical times when humans would sit around and stare at each other all day". I figure the 18th century must have been pre-hysterical, being pre-Freud and all. So, these people could either sit around and stare at each other or write stuff or read stuff.

Times have certainly changed, but what hasn't changed is the value of language as a means of communication from one human to another. We have email, text, myriad social media channels, all of which use written language. If we are going to continue to be successful communicators, we must continue to be avid and extensive readers.

I'm not sure yet what project my students have decided to focus on, but whatever it is it's going to be about how we need to rethink the relationship between reading and education. Successful students are strong readers, which makes them strong writers. In order for education to continue producing capable, confident students who have demonstrable skills in the real world, reading must be a priority.