What to Do About Reading (cont’d)

In this blog, and in every media interview, I often lament that students don’t read for pleasure. If you’re also interested in this topic, I suggest you read The Book Whisperer, a blog in Teacher Magazine by Donalyn Miller, who writes about how to inspire and motivate student readers. Here’s an excerpt from a recent entry:

When I have denounced teaching whole-class novels in past entries, the comments I received from readers spanned a range of emotions from hearty agreement to derision. I feel emotional about this topic, too, so let’s take emotion out of the equation and face some truths:

No one piece of text can meet the needs of all readers. A typical heterogeneous classroom may have a range of readers that spans four or more grade levels. It is impossible to find a book that is at an instructional level for all of these students.

Reading a whole class novel often takes too long. Planning a month or more of instruction around one text replaces a lot of time students could be reading more books on a wider range of topics. It takes even a slow reader only a few weeks to read a book at their reading level. Do the math.

Laboring over a novel reduces comprehension and denies students the ability to fall into a story by breaking books into chapter-bites. No reader, outside of school, engages in this piecemeal method of reading.

Students’ interests in what they choose to read are ignored. Reading becomes an exercise in what the teacher expects you to get out of the book they chose for you, a surefire way to kill all motivation to read– other than to complete assignments.

Many novel units are stuffed with what education gadfly, Michael Schmoker, calls, “Language Arts and Crafts”, extensions and fun activities which are meant to motivate students, but suck up days of time in which the students are NOT READING OR WRITING.

Read more of The Book Whisperer here.

5 thoughts on “What to Do About Reading (cont’d)

  1. My son reads for pleasure. He loves hockey and he was sitting in school opening – you know the 10 minute opening part of the day where absolutely nothing is happening except for the glee club announcing when the next glee meeting will be – he was sitting in opening reading his hockey magazine, when his reading teacher scolded him and told him to put it away. This was in Arlington VA. I was talking to another teacher friend who pondered, “I cannot figure out, if the children enjoy what they are reading, why they are scolded and reprimanded.” What she was referring to is the occasion when students enjoy the assigned books that they are reading – and end up wanting to read ahead, but if they read the next chapter, they are scolded by the reading teacher for getting ahead of the class. Unbelievable!


  2. Oh, Stan, we have to talk. I live in Fairfax County. My daughter, as I’ve said on this blog before, is a ravenous voluminous voracious reader. She DEVOURS books. She attended private school from K-4, then switched to the FCPS GT Center. Yes, in the gifted center, she was repeatedly scolded for reading! Go figure. The nation knocks itself out, trying to get kids to read via that ill-concieved No Child Left Untested act, and here’s a girl who reads reads reads and is duly chastised.

    So what happened? For starters, in 5th grade, my child was given a rising tide of endless dull homework assignments to complete. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t the occasional interesting project, but it came after so much rubbish. And those projects always spilled into the weekends that the craft store a mile away was kept in business solely by our endless clay and poster board runs.

    I confess dear daughter didn’t get to them all because she has certain characteristics common to highly gifted kids (I’m not an elitist but I can no more change the “G” aspect that I can the color of her eyes): perfectionism and avoidance, extreme sensitivity, and ADD-like qualities which have nothing to do with an actual deficit of attention. It’s reading a book all night when you meant t o do your homework, and yes, we had to stay on top of her, much to our consternation.

    Anyway, my daughter is scruulously honest. Most days, she managed, after long hours, to endure the grind. On other days she didn’t quite tackle it all (I’m strict about burning the midnight oil), the teacher demanded to know why. Daughter looked up at her and softly said, “I’m so sorry, I got caught up in a book and read all afternoon.” “How long did you read?” demanded the teacher. “About four hours,” my daughter sheepishly admitted, at which point she was roundly criticized in front of her peers. Go figure. It so happened the book my daughter chose was “Wuthering Heights.” As a ten year old! A book she found on my shelf and began reading and couldn’t stop. And she’s being yelled at! And we wonder why kids don’t love to read more.

    The other three notable times DD was scolded for reading was when she read beyond the required page. Invariably that inane reading response came next, what do you think will happen next? Again, honesty sunk my daughter. She’d write on her sheet, I know what happened, I read ahead and would get rebuked.

    My intent is not to convince you there are no sane teachers left because surely there are those gems. I just wish the school system kicked out the poor ones so they don’t give the rest of the profession a bad eye. wjosh, are you listening? Here is one such heartwarming tale of the teacher you never want to let go of. It is the previous year’s, the 4th grade private school one.

    I told her my daughter often reads ahead and she smiled. “How can you tell a child to stop reading?” she asked. Getting lost in a book, being so wrapped up in the story you lose track of time, are so much more valuable than guessing the next plot twist.

    Oh, the third time. Yes, I confess, she read in class.Sorry, wjosh, I know, I know, not allowed and here you are so right. So many books were confiscated that year that I had a veritable pile to haul home on the final day. No problem there, I suppose.Except when I requested the library books earlier, I was told to wait until the last day of school. I mustered up the courage to tell the teacher (respectfully) that that was fine, as long as she was willing to pay the library fines.


  3. I wrote before:

    I just wish the school system kicked out the poor ones so they don’t give the rest of the profession a bad eye. wjosh, are you listening?


    I meant BLACK EYE, actually. The third try here is a charm! Blame it on sleep apnea!


  4. I used to read for pleasure all of the time. I really loved reading, and set aside time so that I could devote myself to it. Until this year, when I enrolled in Freshman honors english. This class has caused me to hate reading and writing with a passion. I haven’t read a book outside of school for over a year, and the cause is clear: my english class seems like a punishment, and the ridiculous homework load I recieve from it adds insult to injury. This cycle needs to be stopped.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: