The Christian School and Extensive Reading

Over the past several months, I have been doing some research on language learning. This has been interesting to me on a personal level, but it has also been intriguing to me as a teacher. One of the most useful concepts (in my mind) is called: extensive reading. In a class setting, the big idea is for students to read tons and tons of enjoyable material that is on an appropriate level while following the example of the teacher. 

This reminded me of my own childhood journey to loving books. Before I was a great reader, I didn’t enjoy reading. But once I found a series that was interesting and at my level, I just took off. Within a few years, I was reading more advanced literature—from Treasure Island  to Tolkien—and I was loving it.

As I was considering this kind of reading recently, at first I thought, “Wow! My students don’t really do this very much.” I know of a couple students who read real books for fun, but they are the exception to the rule (it seems). However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my students do regularly engage in extensive reading. They don’t read books; they read social media feeds. They digest Fantasy Football articles. They soak in memes. 

Today, more and more people are making the case that social media may be generally unhealthy and dangerous. However, it is effective and addicting. Users can become incredibly proficient in understanding/comprehending (exegeting) and evaluating/applying (hermeneutics) what they are intaking via social media. Many young people are feasting on it through extensive reading.

And it is no wonder that they are being shaped by it. Much can be said about the addictive, negative, divisive outcomes of social media intake, but I want to simply focus here on a lesson that can be learned: extensive reading, regardless of media or mode (book, magazine, computer, phone, website, app, etc.), is powerful in developing fluency. 

It all starts with practice. Getting the ball rolling can be tough. But once it is rolling, it gets easier and easier. Yurika Iwahori explains:

“The human mind has a limited capacity to perform difficult tasks; in performing difficult tasks, such as decoding words and comprehending a text, people make efforts and as a result consume their limited mind capacity; through practice over time, the amount of effort needed for the tasks becomes less; and eventually, the effort required for performing the tasks drops drastically.”     

And the results are good. At the end of a study on teaching Japanese students English, Yurika Iwahori concluded that extensive reading “provides a possible way for students to become fluent readers by being exposed to English, to increase their vocabulary size, syntactic knowledge, and knowledge of the world.”

Okay. So extensive reading can help students read. Got it. And students are doing extensive reading on social media and the wider internet. Got that too. But what’s the point? 

My point here is simple: Christian schools need to get our students reading the Bible extensively. Not reading about the Bible. Not analyzing the Bible. Not jumping to application of the Bible. Not climbing Bloom’s ladder. Not yet. That will come. Much of that must come. First, we just need to get them fluent in the Bible. We need to get them reading extensively so that they become fluent. 

Could it be hard at first? Yes. Will students progress at different rates? Yes. Will there be some bumps along the way? Yes. Will it be tough to retrain brains that have only been feasting on snippets to ingesting long-form texts? Yes. But Bible fluency will be worth it.

English and language arts teachers, can you help? 

History and social studies teachers, can you help?

Spanish and other language teachers, can you help?

If our students become great readers of long-form writing, they have a chance to really become people of the Book. If our students become great Bible readers, the living and active Word will equip them to live as people of the Book (Heb 4:12; 2 Tim 3:15-17). 

We know that extensive reading works out there; people are using it to learn second languages. We know that extensive reading works in here; our students are being shaped by extensive internet reading. So, will we help our kids master the Bible so that the Bible can master them? I think a focus on extensive Bible reading might be a wise and powerful adjustment to our educational strategy.

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