For love of reading: A conversation with LeVar Burton

By Nicholas Provenzano 6/30/2014 Literacies

LeVar Burton of "Reading Rainbow" got his passion for reading from his mother, who was an English teacher. She passed her love for the written word to him by always reading in front of him. It was all about modeling.

That really resonates with me. How often do people tell kids to sit quietly and read, and then take out their phone and check their email? How often do people say they do not have time to read? We need to model good reading habits for our children. They need to see that reading is important to us so that it will be important to them.

I had the opportunity to join a small media session with Burton and listen to him talk about education. Here are some of the things he said that stood out to me:

"We need to make reading sexy!"

I loved this statement. We often see reading as a chore. It is something that has to be done to accomplish a task in class. We spend so much time forcing students to read the required texts — how often are students asked what they want to read?

Educators need to find what students are passionate about and help them discover books that feed that fire. A novel is a pathway to the imagination and the world needs students to be creative and critical thinkers. They are not going to get there on their own if they are taught that reading is a painful act others make you do.

"We need to meet kids where they are. In the '80s it was TV. Today, it is digital media."

These words are so true. Educators need view the digital world as a way to engage students in reading instead of as the destruction of the reading process. Educators need to teach students how to consume this new media and show them the power of reading books.

The "Reading Rainbow" app recommends books and takes students on virtual field trips. These were the best parts of the TV show and can truly engage students in the reading process. Digital media is not the enemy of reading. It can be a strong ally if educators take the time to learn how to harness this powerful tool.

At the end of the session, I had a chance to share my story with Burton. I was undiagnosed dyslexic through most of my K-12 education. "Reading Rainbow" got me excited to read, even though it was so difficult. I wanted to be like the kids on TV who could read those books and have those adventures.

I'm now an English teacher who loves to read. When I told Burton this, he gave me the biggest hug and said thank you. The man who was a teacher to me when I was young thanked me.

We are all teachers of reading when we share how important reading is to us. Take the time to model your love for reading, because you can open an entire world to someone.

Nicholas Provenzano is a technology curriculum specialist and ISTE’s 2013 Outstanding Teacher of the Year. Connect with him on Twitter via @thenerdyteacher, and follow his blog, The Nerdy Teacher.

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