Reading gone wrong

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We are quite expert at teaching students how to read. The research on this topic may be almost as abundant as the common house fly. What we don’t teach is why to read. Oh, we give toss-offs about how they will need to be able to read for college. Reading teachers tell students about the many wonderful books that can be found in the local library. But the issue of why to read remains underaddressed and underconsidered.

Teachers tend to be readers. Too often, I think we teachers gloss over the intellectual and spiritual benefits of reading, as well as reading’s innate entertainment value, because we believe these aspects of reading are obvious. I suspect these aspects of reading may only be obvious to readers — a portion of the population that regrettably has been shrinking.

Eduhonesty: I confidently predict that our push towards common curricula and common standards will be a hindrance rather than a help if our goal is to cultivate readers. If we wish to create readers, administrators and bureaucrats need to leave teachers alone. Each class is different. If I have 18 boys and 10 girls, my reading choices should be different than if I have 18 girls and 10 boys. Those boys likely have little interest in domestic life on the prairie.

Individual literacy levels are huge, too. If my class is reading at a third to seventh grade level, To Kill a Mockingbird is the wrong book. I should be able to assess my classes before reading materials are chosen for the year. I should have the option of differentiating. Maybe one-third of my class should read To Kill a Mockingbird and another third should read The Phantom Tollbooth. I may have a group that needs Yertle the Turtle or my personal Dr. Seuss favorite, Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Reading needs to be fun, at least some of the time.

But I am the one on the scene. I am the one who can gauge my students’ enthusiasm. I need to be able to meet the needs of individual students so that I can sell the idea of reading. Reading is only entertaining if we read books that entertain us. Books assigned by a bureaucrat in a board office not only may not meet that need — they may discourage reading. If To Kill a Mockingbird becomes of source of confusing misery for a child, we may have provided one more reason NOT to read.