The Fate of Reading

Yesterday on Twitter I followed a link to Musing of a Book Addict’s post Venting About The Fate of Reading and Reading Teachers.  As I read her post, I felt myself growing more and more frustrated.  Sandra laid out her own anger with the canned and scripted reading program she is expected to use with her 7th and 8th graders this year.  While I despise scripted programs this part angered me the most:

If they finish a lesson early they may read one of the following books from the program’s library: The Tiger Rising, Johny Hangtime, Bird, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Night of the Twisters, Every Living Thing, Locomotion, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup.
Only these 8 books – OR –They may read either the Kids Discover Magazine, Cobblestone Muse, Faces or Odyssey Magazine or Footsteps. Of course they (the program) have picked the approved topic such as Bridges, climate, fairy tales, Chemistry of chocolate, or Folk Art.

On day 5 and 10 if they finish their computerized lesson they are to go to the online book cart (part of the program) and pick one of their selections and read it and test on it and then go to their online books (part of the program) and read a passage and test on it.

If at anytime they finish all of the above the only other approved book is their required novel from their Language Arts class. 

WHAT?!  First of all, there is nothing wrong with The Tiger Rising, Johny Hangtime, Bird, The Boy Who Saved Baseball, Night of the Twisters, Every Living Thing, Locomotion, Granny Torrelli Makes Soup.  However, there is no way on earth those eight books will connect with all of the program’s students.  They are great books but students should be able to choose from the thousands and thousands of middle grade and YA books out there to read.  Who chose those 8 books?  Which students are they meant to speak to?  What about the students who won’t connect with those books?  

And then if they happen to finish all those books they can then read their novel for language arts and only that class novel.

Personal choice means nothing? 

Students can’t be trusted to choose their own books?

I spend the beginning of each year teaching my sixth graders how to choose books.  For a small handful of students the process can take almost the whole year.  However, they are capable of choosing appropriate books that they will enjoy once they are taught how to choose those books.  How do we expect students to grow into lifelong readers if we teach them that they can’t handle the responsibility of finding their niche in the world of reading?

The program Sandra’s district has implemented actually states that all pleasure reading is to be done at home.  What a laugh!  It’s the rare student who will take time out of their night to read a book for pleasure if their teachers don’t model the importance of pleasure reading in school.  If we don’t show that reading deserves to be done and is important in our daily life then students won’t make that judgement on their own.  My students read independently I make sure to carve the time out of our school day and they then carve out time at home.  It’s a reciprocal relationship.  If it is important to me it becomes important to them.

But what upset me even more in Sandra’s post were her anecdotes about the other teachers in her district who are blindly accepting the canned program.  In fact, they are glad to have it.  Upon hearing that Sandra read books for her students over the summer, they actually responded with disbelief and almost-horror.  Why on earth would a teacher do that “crap”, as one of the teachers so eloquently put it?  

You want to know why Johnny and Johnae can’t read? We have too many teachers willing to let administrators spend thousands of dollars for canned programs that list the benchmarks and what to say and even have the lesson plans written up. That way they don’t have to do anything. 

We need to stop this.  There is no better way to get students reading then putting books in their hands.  BOOKS.  Not basal readers, not graphic organizers, not workbooks.  Actual, physical, paper-and-glue books.  Real novels and stories, not those written specifically for test prep and canned programs.  Literature.  For the past three years I have been growing readers in my classroom, as Jen says, and I do it with nothing more than a classroom library and booktalks.  My students still learn and use the comprehension strategies, they write about reading, they hold conversations about their books.  In fact, they go above and beyond what the scripted programs ask for.  I have extremely high expectations for them and they meet those expectations every year.

Does this mean I have to write my own lesson plans, read professional literature, keep up on children’s literature, and do a little more work?  Sure.  But it’s what is best for my students and it’s what has been working for the past three years.  How can you be a reading teacher and hate reading?  How can you think that reading from a script and never deviating from it is what’s best for our students?!  If all we need to teach kids is a script, then hire a robot instead of a teacher.  Or sit kids in front of a computer.  All you will get is a generation of test-takers.  Sure they’ll pass the standardized tests but they won’t be lifelong learners and they certainly won’t be readers or writers.  And where would our world be without readers and writers?

Whether you are dealing with dormant readers, developing readers, or underground readers- literature is the way to go.  In fact, it is the only way to go.  As teachers we need to get the message out to administrators and politicians that we don’t want these programs!  Instead, the millions of dollars spent annually on reading programs should be funneled to school and classroom libraries.  We should be booking author visits, connecting students with real live writers and creators.  We should be buying novels, graphic novels, realistic fiction, non-fiction, every genre of books for our schools.  We should be exposing students to real text with real stories.  Not some 5-paragraph garbage written for a computer reading program with 10 multiple-choice questions that dig no deeper than recall on Bloom’s Taxonomy yet we call it “everyday text”.  Ridiculous.  Everyday text is made up of what we really read everyday- books, brochures, recipes, signs, newspapers, and so much more.

Books are the answer.  Real reading makes readers.  

Not scripts.

Not programs.

Teachers + books + students


Lifelong readers.


11 Responses

  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I swear people trying to “improve education” come up with some of the dumbest, least helpful ideas. The description of the program made me very frustrated as well. If I would have had that as a kid, I would NOT have wanted to read. 8 books to choose from? Whoopee! I always got a little buzz out of being able to go into the big library and pick out ANY book I wanted…it was like having the world in front of you, not to mention that when you’re a kid/pre-teen being able to make your own decisions about things is really fulfilling. Putting so many restrictions and rules around reading makes it a lot less appealing.

    Oh, and those book tests are a joke. I had those in high school and the majority of the students never even touched the book. They just used sparknotes or guessed on the multiple choice and passed eventually with luck.

  2. As I have written before, when you shovel off the programs, underneath it all is a child with a book.

  3. Now I teach in a totally different environment where there are no canned programs, but even then I find some teachers to be very insecure about their kids getting the necessary reading skills and doing a lot of tedious stuff with literature to reassure themselves that they’ve done what needs to be done. Sadly, there is this dominant idea that systematic instruction of some sort, be it the sort described here or something else, is the ticket.

  4. I agree with you as well. To encourage children to read, you must allow them to pick the book they’re interested in reading. To force a list down their throats is discouraging them to become successful readers. On the other hand, if you are going to enforce a list, then it should be of the classics: Tom Sawyer, Robinson Corusau(excuse the spelling),Pride and Prejudice,etc.

  5. Thanks for writing about this, Sarah. The truly sad thing is that Sandra’s story is probably not unique. But I agree with you 100% about taking all that test/program money and spending it on books. I wonder what percentage of reading teachers would agree…?

  6. I agree with you COMPLETELY! I make my own plans daily and hate following a manual plan. My students read books they have chosen for about 20 minutes everyday. I do read aloud…no workbooks and only authentic reading response. So many of my colleagues think I am crazy for taking the time to do that. But, most of my students leave me enjoying reading. Oh, and only 3 of 49 students did not pass the state test. (and those 3 were less than 5 points away!)

  7. I so disagree with what Sandra’s district asked her to do. Who was the genius researching this program and what kind of data did it have to show it was a viable program? That is one of the things that disgusts me the most. There are actual curriculum leaders out there that fall for this type of canned curriculum. However, I am more surprised that people are surprised to hear of a situation like this. These bad decisions are made everyday at schools all over the US. THAT is the real travesty. Stand up and say THIS IS WRONG! Show them the research. Show them the way. I hope that is something Sandra and others can do to move in another direction.

  8. As a parent who homeschooled her first kid for several years, I understand the fear that some of those reading teachers may have about coming up with their own plan. However, the plan that Sandra Stiles described in her post should just be a starting point, not the whole reading program.

  9. I have been reading and following up on all of the supportive responses. I am hoping that our new Superintendent will see the harm being done to our students with programs like these and then allow teachers to teach the way we should. I will do what I know is best and it will be much easier knowing I am not the only one frustrated that there are others like me out there. My reading coach last year told me to do what was best until they came to do fidelity checks. She was sthe one who could get in so much trouble if I didn’t follow the program. Her reply to me was, “Hey they can only fire me once for doing what is best for students. I will stand behind you.” She is our media specialist this year. I have also heard from our tech person. After our meeting they district contacted her and told her she had one week to get things ready for our reading programs. She emailed me and apologized and said, “I feel your pain.” Thanks for the support.

  10. […] but important note, anyone interested in promoting a love of reading might be interested in this posting at The Reading Zone, which in turn is about this post at Musings of a Book Addict. I am grateful to […]

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