- A Reading Affair to Remember - September 19, 2014
- What Do the Green Shoe Laces Mean in Educational Reform? - January 31, 2014
- The Current State of Education in New York: "The Hunger Games" (Part 3) - May 17, 2013
- The State of Education in New York: "The Hunger Games" (Part 2) - May 16, 2013
- The State of Education in New York: "The Hunger Games" (Part 1) - May 15, 2013
My love affair with reading began underneath the dining room table. It was something I passionately desired to do, and my first glimmer of this new realm was in Kindergarten. There was some kind of power behind the flashcards Ms. Crowning was holding up and I had to have it. I attended Kindergarten in 1985 and now in 2014 the expectations and standards have certainly changed.
From Kindergarten I went on to first grade in Mrs. Gallay’s class, and this brings me to my position underneath the table. This was the year that I truly learned how to read, and I could not have been more excited. I learned the special magic of making books come alive. I was absolutely, 100% determined to be reading books all on my own. There I was in the near dark, poring over a Scholastic Reader by Ruth Krauss entitled Bears. I burst out from under the table and read the story to my mom as a surprise to her that I knew how to read!
From that moment on I read everything. I read the Babysitter’s Club Series, Anne of Green Gables (and all of Montgomery’s books set on Prince Edward Island), Nancy Drew, any and every kind of book that was on the paperback shelf at the library, checking out 20 books at a time, always worried that it might not be enough. I delved into Sweet Valley High, and during a prolonged illness I begged my mom to take them out of the library for me. The librarian worried they were too mature for my age and sent my mom home with Trixie Belden books. I was disturbed by the change of plans, but it did not last long because I soon fell in love with Trixie too! In my teens I crossed over from reading series books to reading horror novels. I read Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels for hours, and in addition to the books that I read of my own volition, I was also enjoying books that were assigned for school.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Of Mice and Men were the first two books to make me cry. I understand why so many of my classmates quite literally hurled Ethan Frome against the wall, but I also understood the beauty in the tragic ending. I discovered how to analyze symbols with Lord of the Flies and never forgot how Piggy’s broken spectacles meant that things had gone terribly wrong. I developed a passionate dislike for Nathaniel Hawthorne (although I still hold a soft spot in my heart for Hester Prynne and her daughter Pearl) and fell in love with British literature, with Pride and Prejudice taking the spot as my favorite. I have been reading avidly for so long that whenever I am in between books I usually feel a little bit lost until I can lose myself in between the pages again.
As an English teacher, I am constantly trying to ignite this same love of books in my students. However, as times change I have grown concerned, along with many other educators, that a love of books is diminishing. Educators (especially English teachers) know that we are battling television, video games, the Internet and social media when it comes to what students would like to do with their free time. Additionally it is quite possible that education reform has become a vehicle of “readicide.” My concern is we are swapping out the love of reading for pleasure with too heavy of a focus on reading for text evidence and academic vocabulary. The focus has shifted from fiction to nonfiction, with a promise to provide a 70 percent nonfiction, 30 percent fiction “balance” by senior year (http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/key-design-consideration/). However, it is not a love of nonfiction that creates a true reader from childhood, but rather a love of fiction, which became very evident to me when I had a conversation with a young friend.
I was highly alarmed when I found out that “K,” an 8 year old I have known since she was a sparkle in her mother’s eye “hates” reading. This announcement was made as K helped me out in my classroom, hauling my independent reading books from one shelf to another, and took me by astonishment. How could an 8 year old “hate” reading? I tried to work it out with her, and then over pizza, K’s mom explained to me that despite valiant attempts to instill a love of reading in her daughter, the constant reading of articles about bridges and other low-interest reading materials in the second grade was slowly but surely eroding a love of reading out of her daughter. A few weeks later, I found myself at Barnes and Noble, selecting books I remembered from my childhood like The Phantom Toll Booth and Ramona Quimby Age 8 because I could not bear the thought of K hating to read! I hope she will read them and find the same joy that I did within the fictional pages.
In my personal experience with reading informational text for pleasure you must have a distinct purpose for reading. I never truly sought out nonfiction until I grew older and realized that I desired information about various topics. When I was thinking of raising a puppy, I took out every informational book about dogs in the library. When my husband and I decided to sell our home without a realtor, we studiously read books on the topic. When I found out I was carrying our first child, I read every book on pregnancy and stored away books on babies and toddlers for the future. When you are a student you spend an inordinate amount of time with informational texts and you need to be able to navigate them with finesse. This is an invaluable skill and you will absolutely need it in the work world in order to achieve success. But so much of the research tells us that if you are a successful and life long reader you will hone this skill:
“The NAEP found that students who read for fun almost every day outside of school scored higher on the NAEP assessment of reading achievement than children who read for fun only once or twice a week, who in turn outscored children who read for fun outside of school only once or twice a month, who in turn, outscored children who hardly ever or never read for fun outside of school."
It is my thought that if our students grow up loving to read as I did, this will propel them to achieve success with the informational texts. It is my belief that in order to cultivate a love of books you must start with fiction.
Current education reform has become so obsessed with performance on tests that we are losing sight of what is truly important, which is creating a culture that values reading. As Kelly Gallagher notes in his book Readicide “we are developing test-takers at the expense of readers” (7). People today are expected to handle much more information than they ever have before, and informational text (even if its contents might be considered spurious) is constantly coming at us from every angle and on every kind of device. This obsession with information has led us into an epic level of distraction. This distraction is quite possibly the reason a new focus has been placed on “close reading” in education. There has been a shift toward reading shorter pieces, or reading the same few pages of fictional text repeatedly instead of delving and disappearing into the pages of novels. Kelly Gallagher notes that ironically “in an attempt to raise reading scores, school districts are removing books from kids” (11).
It is fiction that helps to develop readers. As recent studies suggest, reading about characters in literature will even help develop a sense character within us as human beings:
“When study participants read nonfiction or nothing, their results were unimpressive. When they read excerpts of genre fiction, such as Danielle Steel’s The Sins of the Mother, their test results were dually insignificant. However, when they read literary fiction, such as The Round House by Louise Erdrich, their test results improved markedly—and, by implication, so did their capacity for empathy."
English teachers are not the only people who would like to bring back a love of reading.
Frank Brunni, a columnist for the New York Times wrote recently about how he does his best to inspire a love of reading into his nephews and nieces, and remarks that “Never [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][has he] spent money with fewer regrets, because I believe in reading — not just in its power to transport but in its power to transform.” Brunni recognizes that there is power in reading and he finds it is worth the money and effort to encourage children to read. Real Simple magazine featured a story entitled “Remember Reading?” in the June 2014 issue in an effort to encourage everyone to immerse themselves within the pages of a story and to relish this simple pleasure. “When you’re reading a novel or a narrative memoir with full attention, you don’t only understand the story, you don’t only understand the story you, experience it. And there’s no feeling quite like it."
It is my thought that is to time to rekindle the flame and bring the romance back to reading. It is time to rediscover the joy that a good book can bring, especially for children. This is not an impossible task, but it will take a group effort from home, to school, to the outside world in order to encourage a culture that values reading. This means we might need to log off from time to time, and it means we might need to enjoy a little more quiet time instead of giving in to the pressure to remain constantly busy. Parents always ask me what they can do to help their children improve their reading comprehension, and I always answer with, “Read, read, read!”
How can we encourage reading? Set examples from the beginning. Read stories to children from infancy. Keep books in the house to show they are valued. Get a library card and take trips to the library as an exciting adventure (plus as a bonus it is free). As adults, we can model a love of reading by showing how much we enjoy curling up with a good book. We can try not to save reading for only at night. One of my favorite places to curl up with a great book is outside on a beautiful day. We can be respectful of each person’s reading style; I always ask my students what their style is as an independent reader, because I feel if you can figure out how you best read, you will be able to enjoy it more. Some people feel they must stick with a book even if they hate it, and others will abandon the book after they have given it enough time. Some people enjoy reading the ending first. Some people like to read the old-fashioned way, turning paper pages while others prefer to use e-readers. Whatever style an independent reader has, accept it as long as he or she is reading. Read on different levels; many kids enjoy reading adult books (as long as they are appropriate and approved by mom and dad) and many adults enjoy reading YA books.. .. it does not matter what anyone is reading as long as we ARE reading.
Try carving out time in each day for reading, even if it means limiting time for television and social media. The titles of the most popular books may have changed from when I was first reading, but if we start with a love of fictional stories and then start to incorporate nonfiction texts that children are interested in, we will ignite the spark that will bring the romance back to reading. None of us are immune to the distractions of everyday life, myself included, but a society that promotes literacy by instilling a love of a literature into our children is an enlightened, empathic one. . . and as an extra bonus it is one where students score well on standardized tests