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Readicide: What You Can Do About It

It’s hard not to be disheartened by the findings of the 2007 study To Read or Not To Read, “Half of the adults in this country do not read either to themselves or to their children.” While Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, paints a grim picture of the state of literacy in America, his book is ultimately hopeful.

He believes change begins with administrators, teachers, and parents recognizing the damaging effects of the overanalysis of books. According to Gallagher, it results in the following:

  • It prevents children from experiencing the place where all serious readers want to be – the reading flow.
  • It creates instruction that values the trivial at the expense of the meaningful.
  • It spills over and damages our children’s chances of developing recreational reading habits.

Remember, if you will, the last time you stayed up too late because you couldn’t put your book down. Nancy Atwell describes the reading flow “as that place where young readers have to come up for air.” In other words, they are so caught up in the moment that they forget where they are. While many children can relate to being swept away during a movie, most have difficulty relating this experience to a book.

Part of the problem, Gallagher explains, is that most teachers use study guides that “attempt to use one novel to pound dozens of different standards into the heads of our students.” As a result, the student’s experience is continually interrupted. Although Gallagher’s critique might be misconstrued as an attempt to eliminate the teaching of classic tales, he maintains that’s not the case at all. “We want to take advantage of the imaginative rehearsals that great literature provides before our students reach adulthood.”

Therefore, Gallagher maintains, “I am not advocating that we stop requiring deeper analysis from our students…I am also not advocating that we allow students to self-select everything they read…What I am advocating is that we teachers must create reading situations in which our students discover the reading flow they need to achieve while reading both academic and recreational works, assigned and self-selected. Students who never experience reading flow are students who will never become readers.”

Unfortunately, Gallagher believes, “It has become increasingly popular in school districts across the country to stick struggling or reluctant readers into packaged programs that reward students with points for reading books. Accelerated Reader (AR) is one such program…Many teachers like Accelerated Reader and similar incentive-laden programs because they see students do a significant amount of reading. What they don’t see is that programs such as AR and others that offer extrinsic rewards often lead to demotivating students after they have left the classroom.”

My friend recently shared her son’s situation, which sadly captured this exact situation. The boy reads on the eighth grade level even though he’s only in fourth grade. Therefore, when selecting books at school, he must choose titles on the eighth grade level, despite the fact that the story lines often don’t appeal to him or are too mature emotionally. As a result, this once avid reader enjoys literature less and less.

Jon Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man, recently became the first U.S. Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. According to Readicide, Scieszka believes parents and teachers should the following:

1. Give children much more freedom to choose what they want to read.

2. Expand the definition of reading to include nonfiction, graphic novels, comic books, magazines and audiobooks.

3. Stop demonizing other media, like computers and TV.

I remember reading once that Mary Higgins Clark’s books are only written on a sixth grade reading level yet I know many adults enjoy them. As a college English instructor, I read academic texts all day so the last thing I want to do in the evening is more of the same. Therefore, I remind myself at bedtime if my nine-year-old opts for a title in the Poison Apple Series instead of a Newbury winner. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be diligent about taking your children to the library and suggesting titles, but ultimately my nineteen years in education have taught me the importance of children choosing their recreational reading. So even though this warm weather might have you dreaming about an active summer in the sun, make sure you remember that lazy days spent lost in a book are just as important to your child’s future.

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Read my other blog Befriending Forty at http://befriendingforty.blogspot.com and find out what happens when the person you thought you’d be meets the person you actually became.

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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