Why do our middle schoolers read one million words?

May 15 2024

Why do our middle schoolers read one million words?

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”
―Joyce Carol Oates

At the risk of sounding rather obvious, a million of anything is a lot. And when Keystone 8th graders complete the million-word challenge in Ms. Cindy Tyroff’s English class, it’s truly impressive. Students select books on top of the assigned reading and have the school year to complete the challenge. As you might expect, some students go even further and read between two and five million words.

I asked Ms. Tyroff about this project and she explained that she got the idea from a teacher in California named Kelly Gallagher. Ms. Tyroff’s rationale for doing the challenge was born out of her firm belief in the importance of reading and her personal experience.

Ms. Tyroff declared that it was through reading that she “learned how to live my life.” She lists some benefits of reading:

  • It is rewarding in and of itself
  • It builds vocabulary
  • It prepares students for the world of work
  • It arms against oppression by opening students’ eyes to the world around them
  • It helps young people develop their moral compass
  • It prepares them to do well in college

Some studies have even shown that readers are more philanthropic, exercise more, and make more money. Of course, it also Improves reading comprehension, enables students to be better writers, and improves their vocabulary. Studies from a few years ago demonstrated that reading fiction can increase young people’s empathy, one of our Cobra Code core values. (I would argue that good history and non-fiction writing can also build empathy.) Reading can also be challenging sometimes, and it reminds young people that they can do hard things.

Ms. Tyroff also pointed out that in 7th and 8th grade, adolescents become involved in other things, and reading eats at their own time. If we can create the conditions for students to read what they choose during this time in their lives, there’s a better chance they will continue to read as adults. Making reading into a challenge motivates some students to read who might not do so otherwise.

Ms. Tyroff asked 8th graders themselves about reading and why it’s important. They shared some thoughtful reasons:

  • To understand how others feel
  • To explain imaginary worlds
  • To escape
  • To improve my vocabulary
  • To improve my writing skills
  • To gain knowledge
  • To calm myself
  • To get into another mindset
  • To have fun
  • To get new ideas for writing
  • To enrich my life
  • To explain what could be instead of what is
  • To know I’m not alone
  • To clear my mind
  • To entertain myself
  • To learn about the world
  • To challenge my thinking

In a little less than a week, we will head out for the summer holiday. During this break, students will have plenty of time to do a variety of things, whether they are working, interning somewhere, going to camp, traveling, or just hanging out and trying to stay cool in the brutal South Texas heat. And yes, some will also have their own summer reading and assignments.

Books can provide the perfect getaway during the summer, and we hope that students find time for a few books of their own choosing: a spine-tingling mystery, an interesting and inspiring piece of nonfiction, or a classic piece of literature.

We wish you a summer filled with great books! Happy Reading!

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