Let’s Not Kill The Love Of Reading

Kelly Gallagher via Pinterest

To all my fellow educators, especially those who are in leadership positions and/or the teachers of reading, literacy, ELA (or whatever it’s called today), please take note that some of the practices we are employing in our schools, specifically as they relate to student reading, are actually killing the love of reading in our kids. It’s true – in our effort to “educate” kids and to make sure they are “college and career ready,” we may be indirectly killing the love of reading that many of our children come to school having nurtured (with the help of family members, other readers, etc.) through their own book readings and explorations. 

This post is not directed at any specific teacher, school or leader because I know everyone is working hard and that most are doing what they think is best for kids. This post is not an attack on ELA or reading teachers because I know they are trying to help kids grow as readers. Instead, this post is a plea from me, Tony the dad, who has watched his son’s love of reading be pushed to the brink of extinction. I am not blaming any specific teacher or practice I am just pleading my son’s case. You see, Paul has always loved reading – from the time he was 18 months old – and he could literally get lost in a book for hours at a time. He would sit, curled up on the couch, and get so immersed in book that all we would hear is laughter, oooohhhs or aaaaahhhs based on what he was reading. He would zip through entire series in a matter of days and would beg for trips to Barnes and Noble or the library. He would tell us all about the characters and their adventures. But as he progressed in school, that love for reading started to change. Yes, at some point he did receive his first iPad and iPhone and those screens pulled him away from his books but the battle to read started when reading was associated with an activity/assignment/expectation that was being done to meet someone else’s reading expectations – not his own. Some of those activities included…

1. Reading logs… ugh… the dreadful reading logs that we would eventually just signed off on even if Paul hadn’t read because they become more of a chore than anything else;

2. Written responses… that were never checked or responded to. Yes, I do recognize that children should write about their reading but that writing should be used to give us insight into their thinking as readers so we can help them grow.

3. Summaries… ugh… 5-8 sentences where Paul summarized a book he had read just so a teacher could hold him accountable. It became such a chore that Paul always wrote the minimum and sometimes found a summary using Google that he could paraphrase because it didn’t matter to him. 

4. Book reports… the dreaded book reports that really became more about drawing some amazing picture to go on the cover of the report than anything else. They were also so formulaic that little thought went into completing them – it was like mindlessly following a recipe.

5. Reading passages just to answer multiple choice questions… why are we doing this to our kids? Paul got to the point where he would just read the questions and the multiple choice answers and then scan the passage for the correct answer – no reading really involved there.

6. Close readings have turned into reading the same book for months and doing endless assignments around that one book… that doesn’t work for every kid.

The list could go on and on but the point is that somewhere along the line the reading Paul was doing became more about meeting someone else’s expectations than they were about nurturing and growing his love for reading. I saw it last night when doing a homework assignment related to reading became a challenge that he just wanted to finish and move on. Yet, when the time came for him to read before bed (we agreed to 15 minutes) he literally begged me to stay up to read because he wanted to see what happened at the end of the book. 15 minutes quickly turned into 45 minutes and in the end I had to wrestle the book out of his hands because he needed to sleep.

Why do I share this? Not to shame any educators or schools (Paul has had some of the most amazing and talented teachers I have ever seen) but to just point out that we must rethink our practices as they relate to reading because they might be having the opposite impact – not creating better readers but instead creating resentful readers.

Yes, I recognize that some of our students don’t love to read like Paul loves to read; and yes, a handful of those children may have not loved reading before they even walked into a school building, but I do believe that some of our instructional practices (many of which I was guilty of using as a teacher myself) are actually killing the love of reading instead of nurturing it. When did we stop reading for the joy of reading? Although I am not a literacy expert or reading specialist myself I do think there are some things we could do to help grow a love of reading…

1) Let kids just read what they want to read; choice is a powerful incentive.

2) Let kids talk about what they are reading… book talks are awesome ways to hook other readers and spread book love.

3) Don’t attach an assignment to every reading activity.

4) Books don’t have to be the only thing kids read.

5) If an assignment has to be attached to a reading activity (for accountability purposes), give the kids choices about what they might do.

6) Confer with kids – talk to them about what they are reading and use that data to help our kids set their own reading goals so they get better.

7) Don’t make kids read one novel for months at a time and if you must do this, make it engaging!

Again, the list can go on and on and there are educators who are much more skilled than I am who could offer much better insight but this is just a plea from a dad who wants his son to continue to love to read. No, this is not a new plea as it has been written about here in the Washington Post, and here by Pernille Ripp, and here by Mark Barnes, and even here (there are dozens of pieces actually – just visit the Google). Educators have been talking about killing the love of reading for years yet we are still employing many of the questionable practices and I think we are doing it all in the name of accountability, test preparation and standards. While I recognize that those are our realities, and we must work within them, I hope we (all educators) can pause and reflect on the practices we are employing to ensure we are not indirectly killing the love of reading in our kids and instead we are helping grow that love of books and reading!