One of the hardest challenges we have as teachers is to inspire students who have difficulty in school. A student who has the internal drive to achieve will improve by leaps and bounds compared to any student who is being pulled and prodded along by their teacher.
I came across a terrific personal account on this very subject written by Stephanie Wickens: How Harry Potter Helped Me Overcome Dyslexia. It’s a very moving piece about her struggle with dyslexia, and how her love of books—specifically the Harry Potter series—drove her to improve her reading skills. The entire article is worth a read, but here are some key passages:
As a child I loved to hear stories, and would ask my mum or nan to always read me a bed time story every night. Due to my dyslexia, reading was a massive challenge as I would often find myself reading the same sentence over and over again, but still not knowing what I had just read. I was completely dependent on other people to read a book to me.
However, I was getting too old for bed time stories, so I was forced to find other ways to feed my addiction for literature. When I was 12 my older sister had recently discovered Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling . She started to read it to me once a day, however, the story was so gripping that once a day was just not enough for me. The exciting and alluring nature of Rowling’s writing drove me to pick up a book for the first time.
I was amazed at how she was able to incorporate such complex themes and ideas into her books, but still write in a style that I could understand.
It was challenging at first. I blundered my way through the pages, stumbling over words, often not understanding the meaning. But I was so desperate to find out what happened next that I forced myself to get through, book after book. The more I read the faster I was getting. I enjoyed reading Harry Potter so much that I found it was giving me confidence in other aspects of my life. Every time I came to the end of a book I would feel an overwhelming sense of achievement. Like I had climbed a mountain. I felt so proud of myself that I just couldn’t wait to do it again…
Stephanie’s experience highlights something we often overlook when teaching our students the fundamentals of reading. If the subject matter that we’re using is boring or infantile, why should we expect our students to be motivated to learn? It’s important to do everything we can to foster a love of literature in our students as we support them while they’re reading level is below their level of understanding.
To that end, I think the new trend of allowing students to listen to audiobooks is terrific. Also, thanks to the Harry Potter series, many more young adult books have complex stories and are written in simpler language. If you have students who are looking for a new book series after finishing Harry Potter, both Stephanie and I recommend the Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix. If you have other book suggestions, please share them in the comments!
Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager