Monday, March 3, 2014

Read to Me

Slice of Life Challenge, Day 3

Students across the country are celebrating Read Across America Day today, that is if they are not enjoying yet another snow day. The National Education Association established Read Across America Day to coincide with Dr. Seuss's birthday on March 2nd. Because of our snow day today, my boys will celebrate tomorrow by bringing their favorite books to preschool and making Cat in the Hat crafts to wear throughout the day as they share their favorite stories. My eldest son has had his book picked out for a while. The Lorax. "Dr. Seuss makes a lot of rhymes, and I make a lot of rhymes, so we're kinda twins," he declares. He loves being read to, and as he is starting to pick out a few words on his own, I know it won't be all that long before he's reading on his own. Two of his very favorite spots are the library and the bookstore.  And both his dad and I are happy to indulge frequent visits as these are some of our favorite spots as well.

My son makes a Lorax mustache with his fingers
Sadly, though, this isn't a common experience for many of our young readers.  A poll released by the Pew Research Center in January of this year states that just under a quarter of Americans did not crack a book at all last year. The average number of books read by an adult last year? Five.  That's it.  But before we throw our hands up in frustration, we need to take some time to think critically about the types of reading experiences that our young people are offered today.

My tenth grade students, as I mentioned in a post a few days ago, take the PSATs, three state exams (some will take these state tests twice in one school year), and a few will end the year taking AP tests.  Not only is that a great deal of testing, but think about the reading that students engage in as they hunker down and bubble in responses.  Short, passage-based reading.  And to prepare for these tests, students are often given short, passage-based reading.  How much time do we give to our students to select a book of their choice and read for pleasure?  No wonder fewer adults escaped into a good book last year.

Not only do our students need more opportunities to read books of their choosing while they are in the classroom, but they also need to see their teachers reading for pleasure.  They need to see principals, staff, parents, and peers reading for pleasure.  We need to establish reading communities across the content areas.  Choice over what to read should not be relegated to the one Self Selected Reading (SSR) project done in the English class once a year.

And, as Philly teacher Mary Beth Hertz pointed out a few weeks ago in her Edutopia blog post titled "Reading 2.0," all hope is not lost.  Instead, we not only need to open up opportunities for students to select their own books, but we also need to include the reading that they do engage in, which for many of our students is done digitally.  Hertz writes,
"If we're forcing students to read boring test passages over and over, and teaching them that the only purpose behind reading is to perform on a test, then we have only ourselves to blame if students aren't reading for pleasure. We also need to begin to accept new forms of reading as what they are . . . reading. Young people have more reading options today than ever before, and these forms of reading require them to read differently."
Often times teachers scoff at the idea of labeling fan-fiction as reading.  However, it is a similar arguement that many had a decade or so ago when graphic novels started to become popular in middle and high school curriculums.  Students are reading these creative texts. Students are writing these creative texts.  Young people come into my classroom surprised sometimes when I do not scold them for reading an e-book on their phone.  Why would I?  The student is reading!  What more could an English teacher ask for?  We need to start bringing digital texts, not just e-books, but blogs, fan-fiction, and social media sites into the classroom.  Let's help our students learn to read these texts critically. And let's start counting all the reading that they are doing.
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