Amazon has released its e-reader, the Kindle, the NEA has released its report, “To Read or Not to Read”, and the Internet is flooded with debate about what creates 21st century readers and the role that technology will play in redefining literacy. Former IRA president, Timothy Shanahan, makes a case for school reform when he claims that reading has become a “duty” for students rather than a joy. Daniel Henniger, of Opinion Journal, comments on the possible impact of Kindle, asking, “Does Reading Matter?”, and countless bloggers and teachers have jumped into the fray to describe their own reading experiences and suggest methods to improve reading instruction and inspire children to read more.
While questioning whether Internet reading even counts as reading (talk to the NEA), I scrolled through countless articles this week, looking for answers. As usual, the voices that often tell me what motivates students to read are absent from the debate. Adults seem to ask all of the questions and look for all of the answers in a closed system that seems to have no place for the opinions of children about what makes them readers. We know what is best for children, and they can get on board because reading is good for them.
When I was a youngster, I always did what adults told me to do because “they knew what was best.” Right…
Innumerable postings proclaim that we should give our students “more choice” about what they should read. I agree that giving students the opportunity to choose their own reading material is a powerful motivator, but let’s talk about how that choice is really played out in reading classrooms.
You can read anything you want as long as it is:
at your Lexile level
there is an AR test for it
on the school reading list
not something you have read before
at least 200 pages long
a book, not a graphic novel or magazine,
of literary value (determined by the teacher, of course)
What do you mean you don’t like it? You chose that book; now you have to finish it.
Oh, and here’s a Ziploc bag for you to keep your “self-selected” book in because we all know you cannot take care of it.
Readers provided with this “controlled choice” frequently take the only real choice they have left. They choose not to read!
Students should be taught how to be the agents of their own literary lives, and they need validation for the reading choices they do make. Hidden under the excuses of “not enough time” and “I cannot find anything to read I like”, my students tell me that years of mindless worksheet drills and whole class novels make them hate reading.
We could probably cut down on the outrageous amount of TV watching Americans do these days if we required comprehension checks at the end of every program.
I do not need to read research on best practices in reading instruction (although I do) to understand the reading crisis. All I need to remember is my Psych 101 course. The teacher-driven way reading is often taught is classic operant conditioning, zapping students with a shock every time they pick up a book. After twelve or more years of such punishment, why would anyone ever pick up a book again?
The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.