Ok, That’s It! I can’t take it anymore!

(NOTE: The following is an opinion piece meant to voice my own reflections about teaching reading and spreading the love of reading far and wide. I do not state specific research here — only what I have encountered in my years as an educator in general statements. Please be advised: I am only writing here. Please discuss with positive intent to improve reading education for students’ lifelong success.)

Every day I read research, posts on social media, journal articles, you name it. Each person or company attempts to sell their wares with the claim that they (and only they) can help students to achieve in the area of reading in school. AR (Accelerated Reader) gets the brunt of the criticism (maybe AR is the most widely used/well-known program for reading? I don’t know.), but there are other highly touted programs out there that claim high growth/better student achievement. Low test scores, lack of student growth, decreasing student achievement, poor school grades, are all indicators that something must be done about teaching reading in school. Students are failing. Schools are failing. Teachers are blamed, parents are blamed, schools are blamed. Politicians make grand speeches about how they can “fix” our schools. The hole that is student failure in reading is getting deeper. IF you ask “them.”

So what can we (namely, teachers) DO about this fiasco? I have a few ideas.

  1. Make reading in school FUN again. The fondest memories I have of school reading are of teachers who read aloud fantastic stories (using the voices of characters!) and showed us wonderful covers of beautiful books in well-stocked libraries, where we could choose what we wanted to read to take home. We got to use free time to peruse almanacs, maps, atlases, and we talked about the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not tales that grossed us out the most. Every year, my family saved money for the Scholastic Book Fair, because we would get new books to read and share. I was a good reader because I read. We read a lot.
  2. Make real reading a priority. Real reading. That means no snippets of articles or excerpts of stories that have been torn apart and meticulously “leveled” back together to “help” children read. Real reading. That means real books — not basal readers. Real reading. That means real authors weaving their own creations and illustrators designing the pages to make readers say,”Ah! Wow! Awesome!” Real reading, where students are led to practice (at least 20 minutes a day, uninterrupted, in school) with the help of a qualified reading teacher and supports that are there and can be taken away so students can transfer their learning from one text to another. (Yes, this means direct instruction, led by a teacher, and not a computer monitor.)
  3. Invite teachers to attend professional development: conferences, workshops, classes, etc. that will enhance their skills in teaching reading. Build PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) where teachers can learn with other educators and support each other in the work. (Yes! It’s work. That’s okay.) Have teachers practice “best practices” in reading, and watch how they — and their students — grow.
  4. Promote reading/literacy in each community in the nation. (Not just the affluent communities) Education is important, and reading is important for one to become an educated, intelligent citizen of our world. Be a reader yourself, spend time talking about reading, and spread the book love! (This is my favorite part of being a reader in the global community.)

I attended the IRA (International Reading Association, now International Literacy Association) Annual Conference in Minneapolis in 2009. I remember rushing to a session on reading research that would explain how to improve student achievement in reading (my area of teaching). I was so excited; I sat on the edge of my seat with my notebook in hand. I heard about research that spanned 5 years, with over a thousand subjects. At the end of the presentation, the main presenter looked at the crowd and asked, “You know what we found?” (“What? Tell me!” I thought. I readied my pen to the paper.) He gave a long pause and studied the faces looking back at him, and he smiled.

He said, “The more you read, the better reader you become.” 

I gasped (I could hear it.), I thought to myself, “What? Duh! I knew that!” Reading creates better readers.