I want to be upfront: I am not knocking teachers! My grandmother was a teacher, my mother is a teacher, my wife is a teacher, I’ve been a substitute for over a decade. In my wife’s post-grad classes on reading (she’s currently getting some advanced training).
She and I had a conversation following her research into Wilhelm’s Let them read trash:The power of marginalized texts (2012) and Layne’s Igniting a passion for reading: Successful strategies for building lifetime readers (2009). What she came away with was that “we teach children how to read, but don’t teach them how to choose what to read.”
My wife asks this: Layne states that “teaching kids how to find a book is not really part of the curriculum” (78). He goes on to state that especially in elementary school we teach kids that they are a “yellow dot” reader and should find books in the library that are “yellow dot” books. Once students go out into libraries and book stores, they have to determine for themselves what their reading level is. In conversation with a friend of mine who is an elementary teacher, she stated her students have their color coded books that they are to read, they can have a couple a color above or below, but most have to be the correct color. I see so much structure and dare I say control in the primary grades that when students get into middle school they are helpless to find reading material without a support system. Are we creating children that are dependent on a teacher to test them and tell them what to read?
In her experience working with Middle School kids (and mine is the same,) kids flounder for those couple of years because they have no idea what they enjoy. Their options were very limited in grade school (and low level readers could be deterred away from engaging texts like Harry Potter because they were taught they couldn’t handle big books and Harry Potter is a very big book,) and when they suddenly lose their guidance system they are left to “just figure it out.”
Add on top of that the fact that common core is intrinsically opposed to teens reading fiction. We need to teach kids how to find stories that connects with their interests. The reason video games are popular is that the story connects with them and draws them in–our current schooling is teaching them that reading is a process whereby they subject themselves to an information dump and have to lift mental weights to parse the information. Have you ever tried to read through a long legal document? That’s the feeling kids have when reading something that doesn’t engage them. It’s not as easy as telling kids “Keep reading that boring stuff… eventually you’ll learn to love it!” Nobody works that way…don’t like being slapped in the face? here, let me beat you repeatedly until you like it! Even when kids enjoy reading and we force them into the classics, we can be turning kids off: not many teens really connect with the theme and happenings of the Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird.
No. We’ve got to let kids read what connects with them. Let them read trash YA novels, Sci-fi, fantasy–even comic books… at least they will be reading.