We have a knack in education for killing a love of learning. It is certainly never done intentionally, and most teachers would agree with this statement. It is the consequence of poor legislation and a system of over-testing put in place by politicians who have never stepped in the classroom. Hence, the joy that is created when a young child learns to read is overcome by high expectations and mandated reading material. Yes, kids should be challenged, but sometimes those challenges drive struggling readers away from all reading.
Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz, spoke to librarians at the Indiana Library Federation Conference in the fall of 2013. I loved her speech so much that in March of 2014 I was able to secure her to speak to our entire student body at Manchester Junior/Senior High School. Superintendent Ritz, a nationally board certified librarian, told her audiences of a poster she proudly hung in her library in Indianapolis, “Ten ways to become a better reader: read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read.” So simple. So powerful.
But keeping kids reading when they are struggling isn’t easy. Keeping kids reading when they are only reading materials that they are assigned isn’t likely to happen. When I was in college, I did not read every line of material that was assigned to me. But I always read the things that I was interested in, or the articles that I was able to find on my own.
As an English teacher and an English department head, I felt the pressure that no student should leave high school without reading books from the cannon. I wanted them to head off into life with a good basis of information and reference. But, more than anything, I wanted them to be lifelong readers. It was and always will be a difficult balance.
I would encourage all parents and teachers to really consider what they are encouraging or pushing their children and students to read. Are they getting choice? Do they enjoy it? If it is a battle, then we all need to look at what they are reading. I have a son who is above reading level for his age, and I have a son who is still struggling to learn to read after years of trying. But my rules for them are the same. We read the books that they are assigned first, and then they can pick whatever they want and we will read it. Sometimes I have to read it, sometimes we share the reading, and sometimes they read it to me. I am sure you can guess which book is their favorite to read each night. It isn’t the one that they received as an assignment.
I had an amazing tennis coach who used to tell us that we would get better by “playing people we could beat easily, playing people who we were matched evenly with, and playing people who would beat the pants off of us.” I tell students that it is the same with reading. It takes reading of all kinds to grow as a reader and to enjoy being a reader. It is so simple, just read.