The answer to this question seems obvious. Any activity is better when it’s interesting and fun. But a further question is important for reading instruction: does interest and enjoyment actually help students learn to read?
To answer this question, we need to think more about what goes into enjoyment and student interest. There are two specific aspects of interest that are relevant to reading instruction and that affect the way students strategize about reading: enthusiasm and engagement. These two aspects are also important for teaching to the edges.
Enthusiasm is like enjoyment—the kind of enjoyment that makes you want to put effort into something. When you care about the purpose of a task, you’re motivated to accomplish that task and do it well. Enthusiasm is important to reading for the simple reason that it helps keep readers focused on the task of reading a text.
But it also helps in other ways, too, especially when educators support students’ enthusiasm. Providing such support affirms students’ grounding in particular experiences—their families, communities, ethnic groups, and cultures. Students are usually more enthusiastic about texts that are relevant to their experiences, which is why the texts we choose matter. Part of teaching to the edges is making sure the texts we choose match our students’ experiences and backgrounds. This approach is sometimes called culturally responsive education.
When we choose relevant texts, students are also more engaged. They care about what they’re reading beyond just comprehending it, because there seems to be something meaningful at stake in what they’re reading. All of these factors reinforce each other and help make students better readers.