“Ms. Sins, can you recommend any books for my child to read?”

“How about the same books I recommended at last year’s parent teacher conference that your kid didn’t open?”

Whether you’re an English teacher in China, a volunteer tutor in Toledo — even a copywriter wondering why no one wants a signed copy of your cereal box back–you know that reading is becoming the new broccoli, something forced upon kids.

Yak Yogurt, Shangri La, Yunnan China. I didn’t have a picture of broccoli.

Since my job is helping English learners succeed in the classroom, I know reading statistics the way a bookie knows sports averages. Reading thirty minutes a day has so many benefits, it sounds like a gizmo sold in an informercial. Reading raises test scores, builds confidence, increases vocabulary, improves sleep patterns, lowers stress levels–everything short of chopping Julienne fries.

One key fact that I spout in the classroom is not about books, but their nemesis, the video game. Killing space ninjas with your thumbs can give you the same thrill as as crack as it gives you a hit of dopamine (more info at the end of this post). And, the more your finger’s get you buzzed, the more boring reading will seem.

Unlike video games that give a hit of dopamine, reading will never make you high. It is work but it will take you places you’ve never imagined.

So, how do we hook our kids on reading?

The “buzz” in reading is the adventure of running with your imagination. The things that I read this week were not on a planned reading list, but places that my curiosity ventured.

Here are three new worlds I discovered this week by reading:

Mushers. Two weeks ago, I would have thought Iditarod was a Chinese bootleg version of Izod shirts or an online game. Now, I’m reading about how sled dogs like to nibble on kibbles and elk tripe. I was listening to and encore interview with Gary Paulson, the author of Hatchet (a popular Middle School book) on Fresh Air and his misadventures of being a dog musher in the Iditarod, the 1600 km dog sled race in Alaska. I purchased and devoured his book, Winterdance (1995).

Elephants love to get drunk, and will tear down houses to get a stash of hooch, leading to several deaths each year. Just some of the quirky facts in Mary Roach’s book, Fuzz, the weird world of animals crimes.

Manifestos of German Immigrant Ships. A little back story…like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag, the duffel I slogged to China contained a lot of quirky things, including a printed copy of the Krieger Family tree (my mom’s side). Three Krieger brothers, Jacob, Christian and Peter, left Trier, Germany in the 1840s to head for America. This was before the days of long haul flights with extra leg room and Hindu vegetarian meals. The boys took a boat ride from Hanover to Philadelphia and had Steerage Class tickets, their quarters for ninety days being the boiler room. My great great grandfather got into a rumble with a man who stole his water. He gave the fella a black eye.

This piqued my curiosity about trans-Atlantic boat crossings from Germany to America. Immigration data bases are easy to Google these days, along with sobering details about ship conditions and how many of those ships were lost. I will never complain about the toilet in the daft on a long haul flight again. As for ticket prices? The average ticket price for a one way Steerage Class ticket was $16, just over $500 in today’s dollars.

Early American History: Rigors of the Journey Made by German Emigrants to the USA (revisionist.net)

While finding their names made my eyes cross, the process was interesting as the manifestos contained names of many of my high school classmates, whose ancestors also made the journey. Bohn, Schmaltz, Hinkleman.

The other interesting thing I read was an 8th grade paper on John Dillinger. According to this student, whose thumbs should be registered with the FBI, Dillinger was real pro at robbing ATM machines.

Enough Said.

Have a good book recommendation for teens? Please share! NOTE: Language learners aren’t real keen on reading about trans middle schoolers suffering from dyslexia from behind their burka. Understanding idioms is tough enough. Asian students and parents are conservative.

More about Reading

*Video Game Buzz Playing video games floods the pleasure center of the brain with dopamine,” says David Greenfield, Ph.D., founder of The Center for Internet and Technology .Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Still, experts agree gaming has addictive qualities. The human brain is wired to crave instant gratification, fast pace, and unpredictability. All three are satisfied in video games.

Paper or Laptop? According to research, the brain’s act of reading uses not just sight, but also the act of touch. There is something about holding a physical page of material that makes it more absorbable. “The shift from paper to screen doesn’t just change the way we navigate a piece of writing. It also influences the degree of attention we devote to it and the depth of our immersion in it.”

Reading level at age seven was linked to social class even 35 years on. Timothy Bates and Stuart Ritchie, at Edinburgh University, have proven the connection between reading well and future job success, empirically. They analyzed the relationship between early reading skills at seven and later socio-economic life, following more than 17,000 people in England, Scotland and Wales over 50 years from 1958. They showed that reading well at age seven was a key factor in determining whether people went on to get a high-income job.

The Iditarod has a website for teachers. Check it out! About Iditarod EDU – Iditarod

2 thoughts on “fēi bèn飞起 getting high

  1. Tapping into students’ interests in order to get them to read can be challenging, but is essential in order to get them hooked on reading. Using misconceptions that students have, or questions that students have about any given topic, can lend itself to researching information to find answers, just like your questioning brain led you to learn more about your ancestors, the Iditarod, and the drunken elephants. Thank you for sharing! (Lol @ Dillinger robbing ATMs)

  2. Great idea! I think this week, students will submit a question about something they are curious about. EXAMPLE: Do tobacco plants make clean air?
    They will also have to supply the impetus that inspired the question.
    EXAMPLE: I thought of this because in science, we were studying lung cancer and I remember as a kid, studying how plants make air…

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