Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Are Schools Killing Reading?

As a middle school reading teacher, I often see firsthand the untimely death of reading for pleasure. Those little darlings who squealed with delight over reading their first words in elementary schools come to me and act as if they're being tortured when I say we're going to read. Oh, they're okay when I read to them, but the suggestion of silent reading sounds like punishment to my very active preteens and teenagers.

Every year I ask the students in my school to answer this question: what do you do when you read? And every year I get the same answer - "I look at words." I tell them that if I place a book in front of my cat's face, she will "look at words." Is she reading? The discussion continues - middle school kids like activity. I tell them if I could make reading more like playing a video game or football, they'd love it. And they agree. So I spend the entire school year teaching them ways to make reading interactive, something that requires more than "looking at words." We interact with the text in many ways - we think aloud, we annotate, we visualize - the list is long. But still it's true. Most of my students aren't excited about reading like they were in elementary school. And some openly hate it.

As I read Kelly Gallagher's new book, Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What We Can Do About It, I thought about all the things I've tried to do to keep reading alive. I've written short novels myself, unpublished but still my attempt to provide material that I know interests my students. I have dressed up in my wedding gown (veil and all), fairy costumes (I was the Reading Fairy), and even as Britney Spears (that one was a stretch, but we were teaching reading with a music theme that day!) I've brought in, or cooked, almost every food my classes have read about - a character in Pinballs loves Kentucky Fried Chicken; Gerald loved his Aunt Queen's pancakes in Forged by Fire. I've tap danced and once I did a handspring (that was in my younger days.)

So when I read Gallagher's title, I can say that I felt a little defensive. I'm not killing reading, I thought. But a sneak peek at the book proves that I need to understand that perhaps all teachers aren't willing to pull their wedding gowns out of the closet while gradually having more difficulty getting them zipped due to the vast amount of food being consumed in the classroom. There are actually schools who are contributing to "readicide," a malady defined by Gallagher as a "the systematic killing of the love of reading often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools."

Want to know more? I'm excited to announce that Kelly Gallagher is going to be making a Blog Tour Stop right here at The Dream Teacher. Click HERE to download the book, scheduled to be released on February 10th by Stenhouse Publishers. And it's definitely worth the peek! Gallagher begins with an in depth discussion of how testing has impacted our teaching - he calls it "The Elephant in the Room." Then he ends the book with a nice appendix that includes "101 Books My Reluctant Readers Love to Read." Every teacher needs to see that list.

Most importantly, Mr. Gallagher, a full time teacher at Magnolia High School in Anaheim, California, will be stopping by to answer any questions that DreamTeacher readers may have. So click on the link, read the book, and submit your questions in the comment section.

And thanks to Kelly Gallagher who is on a mission to stop readicide in our country. It's a huge undertaking (no pun intended) to end the killing of reading, but this book is a great way to start. Submit your questions, and let's get this discussion started!


Amber Cline said...


I just read in Teacher SmartBrief that you are a finalist for National Teacher of the Year! WOW!!! That is so exciting! I'm so proud of you and wish you the best! I count it a privilege to have taught with you my first year. You've definitely had an impact on me.

Amber Cline

Rusha Sams said...

You are an inspiration! What fun the students must have watching you dress up to add interest to reading! And you have probably inspired more free-time reading than you know about. Thanks so much for creativity, effort, and sometimes what I call "teacher silliness" to grab student attention!

john in nc said...

Cindi - my congrats, too, and good luck!

My question has to do with the assessment of student progress in reading. If the current assessments are driving us to Readicide, as they seem to be, what does Kelly think is a fair way to monitor teacher success in helping students gain the full range of reading skills, and most esp. comprehension/higher order skills?

Much as I disagree with the way we assess reading on a mass high-stakes scale now, I've also been in a lot of schools where teachers were not getting the job done, most often because they really didn't have the deep understanding of how to do it well. How do we spot those teachers and help them?

Susie Highley said...

I think schools make reading as "unnatural" as possible when they make all students read in lock step. It's not uncommon for novels to be dragged out for up to three weeks. No wonder kids don't think of reading as a future recreational activity. The only benefit I can see to all 7th graders in our large district reading a book at the exact same time (talk about putting a strain on resources) is that they can easily find someone else to casually discuss the book! Imagine: 1000 7th graders in an area reading The Watson's Go to Birmingham at the same time. The only thing is, they are weary by the time it's over. Kids with an extreme interest find a way to get their own copy of the book.

How many of us would read 40 minutes of a book, waiting for others to catch up, five days a week for three weeks to finish it?

Heather W said...

I agree with Mr. Gallagher that giving kids time to read during school is important, but what do you do when there are a few kids who simply don’t read during this time?

For example, I have one student who says he hates reading. We looked through my classroom library together and there was nothing that looked interesting to him. We’ve looked through the school’s library with the same result. When we finally find a book he’s willing to try, he looks around the room during most of our reading time. During independent reading time, I run guided reading groups, have student-teacher conferences, or give individual students reading assessments (DRAs), so I can’t read with him everyday.

How do I make sure independent reading time is a valuable use of time for ALL kids?

Anonymous said...

I recently discussed the unbelievable breadth of the English Language Arts curriculum with one of my colleagues. As ELA teachers, we both felt the pressure to teach students everything that involves reading, writing, listening, speaking, and viewing. Unfortunately, this sometimes comes at the cost of valuing quantity over quality – an unfortunate step towards readicide.

His recommendation was to break the curriculum into 2 subjects – reading and writing. Although there would be clear overlaps between the two subjects, there would also be distinct objectives for each subject. This would, however, involve hiring additional staff and probably lengthening the instructional day. I firmly believe in an integrated curriculum, but sometimes, when the day is too short and the curriculum is too daunting, this approach seems the way to go.

Mr. Gallagher – I know you have focused on both reading and writing curriculums in your work. Have any of your experiences provided insight on the pros/cons of this issue? Are there other models available for creating a more purposeful and critical curriculum?

Anonymous said...

I have a couple of different questions regarding the ideas presented in Readicide. First of all, I respect the notion that teachers need to find their voices, and begin discussing the problems caused by high-stakes testing, but I cringe at the idea of doing so outside of my teamroom or Friday's "happy hour". My principal made it clear his first year that teachers without his "sense of urgency" could be replaced. I love my school and my community; I don't plan on leaving. Thus, do you have any suggestions for how to begin some "hard talk" in an appropriate, professional manner? I don't want to come across as a complainer or not a team-player when everyone else has accepted multiple-choice testing as the present reality of education.

Secondly, my colleagues and I have struggled with how to ensure and assess nightly reading at home. We have tried weekly reading logs on which students respond to the reading with questions, summaries, illustrations, connections, etc. as well as simple reading calendars, requiring students to note titles, pages and genres. No matter what we try, these logs always end up being submitted late, incomplete, insuffeciently completed or neglected entirely, with struggling readers apathetically accepting 0 after 0. It seems the only students who turn them in consistently are the ones I know are reading anyway! Do you have any tips for ensuring reading outside of school?

Thank you so much for many of the suggestions in your book! My teammate and I are going to start assigning weekly articles as a way to increase our students' background knowledge.

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