Sadly, the ultimate goal I refer to is rarely uttered in school board meetings. It is seldom discussed by teachers, and too few parents are worried whether their children are likely to reach this goal. That’s because the central tenet of maximizing productivity…what gets measured gets done… is at work and schools don’t systematically measure progress toward this highest goal.
To clarify…by “teaching our children to read” I don’t mean teaching them to read short passages and successfully answer someone else’s questions. That’s teaching our children to do well in classes or on state assessments. That’s ONE focus. That’s an easy way to assess how teachers and schools are doing in preparing kids…for the test. School districts delight in reporting to their employers and communities about “how well we are doing in teaching children to read.” However, full information on that specific result is not available through these tests.
Tests measure short term reading growth in the skills of processing small bits of print and taking something from it that adults find valuable. That’s a common goal, but it certainly isn’t the ultimate goal for our children.
Lifelong. Avid. Self-selected. Books.
That doesn’t mean teaching them to be able to read passages on demand that they would never choose to read themselves, though that capability may be a by-product of good teaching. Teaching children TO AVIDLY READ SELF-SELECTED BOOKS means teaching children to choose to read books and to prioritize reading them as a natural part of every day. For teachers and parents, this ultimate goal must include:
- Teaching them why and how to comfortably find a storybook that will please them and expand their understandings of the rewards and perils of life;
- Teaching them why and how to locate an informative book easily, to supplement their knowledge in some area of inquiry that they find personally fascinating;
- Teaching them why and how to embrace daily reading as the ultimate path for delightfully and continually building a fulfilling life, long past schooling and testing.
If we want these ultimate outcomes for our children how might they be measured? I offer three questions to ask and answer … maybe monthly:
- When each child finishes a book, does she already know which books she might want to read next?
- When each child enters the library or bookstore, does he already know what he’s looking for?
- Is reading self-selected books a daily part of children’s learning lives in every classroom and in their recreational lives at home.
They just don’t.
Consequently, lifelong, avid reading of self-selected books doesn’t get regularly taught. As a result we perennially shake our heads about the abysmal statistics on library circulation, about pathetic book sales data, and about the embarrassing results of post-graduation reading habit surveys.