Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How to Destroy Your Child's Love of Reading

Summer break is about to begin. The kids have less than a week until they're free of classrooms, and schoolbooks, and homework. For a few, precious months, they'll be able to do as they like with their time.
One lingering bogey remains: Required reading.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for kids doing something over the summer, and reading books for pleasure is right up there with "optimal things kids should do to retain knowledge and improve vocabulary."

But let's face it: Required reading sucks!

There's something horrible about having a vacation with something hanging over your head. If the kids have savvy parents, they'll get taken to the library right away to get the book (or two, or three), and the kid will be stuck reading a few pages a night for the rest of the summer. Sometimes they'll even like it, and read the book in one huge gulp right away, then spend the next two months forgetting about it.

Usually, though, they come to me in the last week of summer vacation with a list of books that were written 20 years ago, and are out of print. They'll be difficult to find, but somehow I'll dredge up something for them, and they'll spend a few miserable, frantic evenings trying to read a book they didn't want and aren't interested in.

I actually have no problem with requiring the kids to read something over summer. As a matter of fact, having them write a mini book report - maybe one per month - seems like a fantastic idea. The kids forget so much over summer break. A little brain exercise isn't going to hurt them, and they need to understand that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do.

What I have a problem with are the reading lists and reading levels. Lexile levels, AR categories, and all those other sorting gimmicks are just that - gimmicks. They've been developed to give parents and teachers some kind of tool to guide them, and "incidentally" make money, because these tools and other things like them come with a slew of quizzes and evaluations. NOTHING IS FREE, people!

Reading lists throttle children's choices down to a few that have been judged "worthy" by some higher authority. They are often out of date and irrelevant. I have come across a few that have had nice choices in them, but those aren't common, and they still restrict the child to a miserable few - implying that books that aren't on the list are unacceptable. I've seen parents refuse to permit their child to check out books that weren't on the child's required reading list. I haven't seen it just once or twice, I've seen it happen over and over, both during the school year and in summer.

What does this tell the child?
"Those books you want are unworthy, unacceptable, dirty, simple stories for stupid children. Therefore, you are a stupid, simple child who cannot make his own choices about what he should like."

Yeah, that's going to encourage him to read for pleasure.

Lexile levels are the most common "sorting" tool that I've been presented with, and let me tell you - they are bizarre and inconsistent, and too often used as a bludgeon to force children to read harder and harder material, far beyond their grade level or emotional tolerance.

Much like with reading lists, parents frequently refuse to allow their child to take books outside of the roughly 50 point window that is "acceptable" for the child to read. Unlike with reading lists, the policing more commonly comes from the child. By the time they've hit Lexile levels in school, they've learned that their own instincts on what they should be reading are inadequate. The cycle has hit full swing - reading is never for pleasure any more. If the book does not fit the assignment, it is discarded.

The best experience the kids are getting by the time they hit middle school is neutral, if they've been repeatedly hammered with reading lists and Lexile levels. They do not read for fun, and they will continue to not read for fun once they're out of school.

As a society, we complain about the education system and the literacy rates of our children. We fear how the current generation is reading less for enjoyment than the previous ones, and rightfully so.

Making the child afraid every time he picks up a book is not the answer.

How about we let the kids make their own choices? I'm not saying we need to get rid of To Kill a Mockingbird, or anything - by all means, have a few gems that they'll be required to read throughout their school career - but by and large, let them pick their own books! Let them do their book reports on what they want to read, and evaluate them on the quality of the report, not whether the book was at least 110 pages.

The vast majority of kids aren't going to deliberately cheat an assignment by reading a baby book, and if they do, the reading level they chose is the least of your concerns. That kid has other, more serious problems.

Kids will pick up more vocabulary words by reading at or below grade level, and they'll have fun doing it, too. They'll build positive emotional ties with books, because reading won't be a struggle every time. The establishment of success will encourage kids to explore other, harder books.

Want your kid to stretch? Have them pick out something that looks interesting, and read the first page aloud to you. If they stumble just a little bit, the book's perfect. If they breeze through it, encourage them to find something a bit bigger, and remind them that if they want that easy book, they can have it, too.

Let them read comics. Comics are fun.

We don't need reading lists, AR levels, Lexile scores, or any of that nonsense. All we need is a bit of parental involvement. Take five minutes with them at the library. Read them a story at night.

Make them happy when they pick up a book. Problem solved.

No comments:

Post a Comment

There was an error in this gadget