SOMEONE all English teachers would love to have would be the perfect student. You know the type; he’s the one who reads the lesson ahead, and asks thought-provoking questions or volunteers information no one asked for.

However, with the Philippines having far less book readers than, say, Internet surfers, the perfect student might just be the perfect dream. There are about 14 million Internet users and only several thousand books published a year (I’ve found no statistics on the number of people who read for pleasure), and this can probably be traced back to the time when little Juan and Juana were still skipping off to class.

Though the educational curricula in primary and secondary schools may differ, there is one area they should be the same: the quality of reading instruction. In elementary, students are drilled comprehensively on reading, with the goal of students understanding if its literature, the characters, their motives, and how the plot turns out. In secondary education, however, students are expected to be able to read and understand the stories in one sitting. In reality, lessons focus on speaking and writing, with little regard for other macro skills.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the country has a 92.6 percent literacy rate (2005). But it cannot be presumed that high school students would churn out insightful papers on assigned readings in class. For one, literacy rates are self-reported. Also, “literacy” just refers to functional literacy, or being able to read and write to get by.

The notion that teaching reading to high school students is embarrassing should be dispelled. Reading should not be considered an “elementary macro skill.” There are students who reach high school without being competent in reading, and read at a rate way slower than they should. However, the students’ basic ability is one factor, and their interest in what they read is another.

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Matute, Tagalog writer, teacher and first Palanca winner; 94

The students’ interest in the readings is a great predictor of their performance in school. While stuffing the curriculum with “chick lit” and serial books is hardly the answer, I think that people designing the curricula should take note of the current best sellers, which ones are good reads, and consider to include these in the program.

The reason for this is simple; students like reading what they can relate to. Literature in general has thrived for this reason, even more so for young adult literature. If people gravitate toward things they know about, it is doubly the case for young readers, who are still carving out their identities.

Concerned parents worry that children and teens who read edgy novels, especially those that have violent or sexual content, would translate what they read into real life. The parents have good reason to worry, because constant bombardment of learners by intensely provocative works may lead to desensitization, the complete opposite of what teachers want to develop. I say students are smarter than that, and would benefit more than be harmed by reading current young adult (YA) books. This is not to say we should haul our copies of The Odyssey and War and Peace out into the streets and set them on fire. These works are studied for a reason; they have endured time and set the standards of literature. It is good to study the great classics, but it is also prudent to watch out for works from the present. Surely, the past does not have a monopoly on good literature. Reid and Stringer (1997) proposed three basic guidelines to help teachers through a lesson on a YA book. The first is for the teacher to use YA books that have been read and evaluated. After this, the teacher should attempt to strike the middle ground between an adolescent’s problems and the teacher’s experience of the real world. And then, the teacher should provide the students with other resources that might help them understand the selection more.

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Ganid sa media

If curriculum developers include contemporary young adult titles in their curricula, this will help struggling readers cope with the demands of the course, without alienating those who are proficient. Maybe by then, students would be a bit more inspired to pick up their school readings.

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