Every few months it seems there is news that focuses our attention on the perennially pitiful job schools do in improving reading. The proposed solutions are predictably pitiful as well. Schools that have been doing A should check out B, and schools that have been doing B might want to try C. The options for school-wide improvement each year are increasingly limited by focus on all students. This leaves insufficient time, energy and resources for addressing the actual felt needs of each student.
For example, some assert that children would improve their test scores with some further review or instruction in phonics. Maybe. However, what if we weren’t interested in test scores? What if what we really wanted was for each child to…
…Become an avid reader, joyfully seeking out personally compelling books, with a habit of daily reading for fun!
Then, any instruction at any age would occur in that context, an over-arching literacy goal that was ever-present.
If that gets lost, there should be no surprise that in rearranging all of the usual instruction programs, we still lose students who have not yet figured out the personal magic that makes an enjoyable book a forever friend.
Children differ markedly in their personal and intellectual makeups, life experiences and particular interests and talents. So, we know that focusing on providing instruction, neither Program A nor B is likely to benefit every child. We also know that individualizing instruction is a colossal challenge with even a small class and utterly impossible with a large one.
So, what’s a parent or teacher to do since working hard to maximize instruction time with all of the children still begets disappointing reading scores across the country?
What is being ignored here is the amount of time when kids get to read what they want to. We know that humans get better at anything they love and are allowed to do.
So, how about we help them find good books they would choose for themselves, with that overarching goal of the literacy curriculum focusing upon developing avid readers who will continue to read and grow long after formal education.
We know that requiring kids to read particular books doesn’t work unless those books coincide with the children’s interests at the time. Freeing children from grade level designations of their book choices, which truncate kids’ options, is one positive move. Consider as well, expanding the choices and support that children need to consistently and fluently find another comfortable and rewarding book as soon as they’ve finished the last one.
Hello children’s book librarian!! Book clubs! Kid to Kid Book talks and recommendations!
Do the tests assess whether a child is going to be an avid reader as an adult and parent? Do they find a child who wants more time with a favorite book, so she doesn’t want to start a new one yet?
So maybe teaching reading works for children excited about going to the library and eagerly getting lost in books they love, every day.