Monday, January 16, 2012

Reading is NOT an Option

As someone for whom reading is like eating, a necessary part of human existence, not wanting to read is a perplexing occurrence.  When I feel the pull to do other things, anything besides read, I wonder, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME????”  The weight of my distraction is disturbing, in fact, so much so, that even though I choose not to read, I am burdened with guilt for feeling that way.  Eventually, the guilt becomes overbearing enough to compel me to pick up my reading and muddle my way through a couple of chapters until I find that stride that reconnects me with my “other” world. And usually, I am not disappointed.  And when I am, I know I will keep trying because for me, reading is not an option. 

When I think about my own inner struggles with an engaged and active reading life, I can’t help but turn my thoughts to students. With the advent of the Common Core, our focus and attention has turned toward figuring out how we are going to raise student reading proficiency.  In thinking about this, our focus has turned toward instructional strategies and practices. What do we need to do to TEACH these children better?  As I think more about this, I am wondering if perhaps we are barking up the wrong tree.

The scores aren’t telling us that students can’t read, they are telling us that they can’t read well enough.  When we don’t do something well enough, is it because we haven’t learned what we need to know or is it because we haven’t practiced what we learned? I don’t believe that our problem is illiteracy, it is aliteracy.  We have far more children who can read and don’t than we have children who simply can’t read.

But unlike me whose lack of reading induces feelings of malnourishment, most children (and dare I say alliterate adults as well) are unburdened by a less than robust reading life.  THIS is cause for alarm.  THIS is what is causing scores to stagnate.  And THIS is where we need to look long and hard if we are going to figure out how to breathe new life into scores that have flatlined for over thirty years.  If we want to change test scores, we shouldn’t only be looking at HOW we teach, we must also be looking at how we MOTIVATE children to want to read MORE.   In the same way that it is unconscionable to think that a sports team would improve their game simply by hiring the best coach, we can’t be lured into the false belief that our problem in reading lies solely with instructional practices.  Good coaches know that positive game results require that players get out there and kick the ball around. And as educators we need to recognize that positive test results require more than good coaching: readers need to read. My question is this:  What can we do to make kids WANT to read?  And as classroom teachers, how do we fit more time for reading into an already jam-packed schedule?    


Linda704 said...

It took me a moment to process your title and message. I couldn't imagine anyone passionate about literacy saying that reading is not an option. Then it hit me. I get it. I feel the same way to some extent, but I can get my "fix" reading around the Internet. After finishing my doctoral studies last year, I'm finding my love of losing myself in a good book (albeit on a nook!). Have you see this? Walter Dean Myers, Ambassador for Young People's Literature, has stated the theme for his ambasadorship is "Reading is Not Optional." (Perhaps why I had some cognitive dissonance when I read the title!)

Kim Yaris said...

Hi Linda! You should know that I struggled with the title. When I first started, I was toying with calling it "Forgive me Father, for I have Sinned" because admitting that I have reading dry spells felt sort of confessional. Today's blog was definitely a meandering of thoughts that took me back to this idea of reading volume and the importance of practice. Raising elementary and middle school aged boys, I meet many children for whom reading IS optional. If they get to it, they get to it, if they don't...well, then, oh well. It doesn't ruffle feathers or cause alarm, not in the same way that say not finishing writing their spelling words three times each would. There is something wrong with that. As a society, we've got to change the way we value reading. I don't think teachers can go it alone. The problem we are faced with is bigger than good instruction. While that is an important piece, it is not the big picture. We need everyone on board if we are going to fix this problem!