Free Range Readers

Nurturing Self Reliant Readers and Writers in K-6 classrooms

Reading and Empathy

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My school’s professional readings this summer are centered on empathy, what it means and how focus on empathy in our work in school. I have no argument with any of the ideas presented in the book Empathy: Why It Matters and How To Get It,  by Roman Krznaric.


In fact, I do think it is an area that needs to be addressed in my school and I look forward to the continued conversations as the school year unfolds. I have a strong belief in the use of literature to build empathy.

A recent article, Reading for pleasure builds empathy and improves wellbeing, highlights findings from a study on pleasure reading in the UK.

The impact of reading for pleasure and empowerment’ surveys research into the effects of reading for pleasure on people of a range of age groups and requirements. Among the benefits it finds are improved social capital for children, young people and the general adult population; better parent-child communication and reduction of depression and dementia symptoms among adults.

As a strong proponent of reading workshop, these findings come as no surprise. What is confounding is how so many people who make decisions about reading instruction do not see value in giving children two of the most important, essential ingredients for powerful reading: time and choice. The International Literacy Association has a position statement on Leisure Reading, also known as Recreational Reading, and states:

Research shows that leisure reading enhances students’
reading comprehension (e.g., Cox & Guthrie, 2001),
language (e.g., Krashen, 2004), vocabulary development
(e.g., Angelos & McGriff, 2002), general knowledge (e.g.,
Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998), and empathy for others
(e.g., McGinley et al., 1997), as well as their self-confidence
as readers, motivation to read throughout their lives, and
positive attitudes toward reading (e.g., Allington & McGill-
Franzen, 2003; Eurydice Network, 2011). The benefits of
leisure reading apply to English learners (ELs) who read
in English as well as in their native languages. Because
interesting texts provide comprehensible input as well as
practice with reading, leisure reading offers many benefits
for ELs.
Children need to read a lot. They need to have agency over the materials they choose to read. As a teacher, I know I can help by expanding their knowledge of books and building their skill set. Reading habits matter as much as foundational skills. It’s not “either, or” and unfortunately, the powers that be who make policy decisions that impact millions of children, don’t quite get it. See Donalyn Miller’s work for great support in developing classrooms of independent readers.
I am lucky that I teach in a school where I can focus on both skills and habits, and this year I will add a focus on developing empathy as readers.

Author: mnosal

I have been in education for all of my life, in one way or another. After teaching 5th grade at an urban public charter school, I have decided to return to the public schools and to literacy coaching K-5. I also teach and mentor preservice teachers.

One Comment

  1. I looked up Kate DeCamillo’s book Flora & Ulysses and found your blog. Kids and books: a good combination! (And I agree: policy makers aren’t the friends of education that they could be; they could stand to spend a little time in public schools to remember what it’s like and what kids need!)

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