17
September
2009

Reading for Fun

There’s been a ton of talk around the blogosphere lately about reading for fun, and the advantages and disadvantages of letting kids choose reading materials for themselves. I’m going to start out with a bunch of links, because there’s been so many excellent points made be so many bright people. I encourage you to read some or all of this if you haven’t already. It’s thought-provoking stuff.

It was this NPR article about the cancellation of the much beloved TV program Reading Rainbow that first drew my attention to the differing philosophies in teaching reading skills. The article draws a distinction between the Reading Rainbow philosophy of teaching kids why to read, and other approaches, which focus on teaching kids how to read.

Then came this New York Times article about the introduction of “reading workshops” into some schools, in which students choose some or all of their own reading materials. Part of the intent of such programs is to encourage students to actually enjoy reading, and to develop a reading habit.

This follow-up essay brought up a specific curriculum tool that awards different amounts of “points” to different books. The quote that stands out to me (and makes me sad) is:

They base their reading choices not on something they think looks interesting, but by how many points they will get. The passion and serendipity of choosing a book at the library based on the subject or the cover or the first page is nearly gone, as well as the excitement of reading a book simply for pleasure.

The Reading Zone has a thoughtful and detailed reaction to both the Reading Rainbow cancellation and the NYT article here.

Author Meg Cabot talked (in her characteristically entertaining way) about her own experiences reading books she actually enjoyed versus books she was assigned in school.

Then there was this post, once again from The Reading Zone, responding to a statement by author Lois Lowry questioning whether kids who are allowed to chose their own reading materials and only chose “junk” will ever move on to “classics”. I particularly like that a distinction is made between “classics” and “good literature”.

So there you have a whole lot of excellent commentary by a number of smart folks. Here’s my personal experience:

I read a LOT of “junk” as a kid. I read books that I knew I was going to forget the day after I read them. I read books I absolutely loved that I kind of cringe at nowadays. I read Newbery winners. I read books that I still adore passionately, even if other people might not consider them “high literature”. But the point is: I READ.

I read dozens of slim Doctor Who novelizations. I read all the Xanth books (horrible puns and rampant sexism and all). I read pretty much any book with a dragon or a unicorn or a spaceship on the cover. I read SASSY magazine and Beverly Cleary and The Cricket in Times Square. And tons and TONS of X-men comics.

I remember waking up really early and enjoying a long delicious mornings reading in bed before school (I was an early bird even then, so that was my version of reading late under the covers). I gulped down books in great piles. I visited libraries and used bookstores and Waldenbooks constantly. And it was so much FUN.

Nowadays I still read plenty of good books — excellent books!– but nothing has ever quite matched the pleasure of childhood reading. And it kills me to think that there might be kids out there missing out on that because to them reading is just another dull homework assignment.

Thinking back, I am trying to even remember anything I read for class in middle school or high school. I remember enjoying the Shakespeare plays (Macbeth and Hamlet) for the beauty of the language, and The Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders. But I actively disliked The Lord of the Flies and most of the others left no impression on me at all. But I can still remember hundreds of details from my favorite (read outside of class) Star Trek novels (the ones about Uhura!). And because I loved those books I chose myself (mostly while wandering through libraries), I never stopped reading.

I don’t want people to stop reading.

One last note: if you loved Reading Rainbow as much as I did, here’s a way you can help try to save it.

What about you folks? How did your assigned readings from grade school and high school impact your identity as a reader? And do you all now have the Reading Rainbow theme song stuck in your head like I do?

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for such a wonderful post. I read the different articles and really enjoyed them. I am a Middle School Intensive Reading Teacher. We have one of the district mandated scripted programs. Our district also adopted a core curriculum that has novels picked out for each grade. Our team is meeting next week to discuss using AR. I am in the minority. I don’t MAKE my student do AR. It is an option. I give no awards or anything. I decided my student would read 10 books this year to accompany their scripted program. 7 different genres I chose and 3 of their own choosing. They didn’t know how to choose books. They were used to reading 25 books that were nonfiction and .5 – 1 point books to get their AR points. It was easier they said. I added the requirement that for the genre books none could be less than 100 pages. That meant they had to find something of substance. They write book reviews and make connections to themselves, the world or other books, and they make recommendations to others. When asked how many books they read last year, many admitted not even reading the required ones for Language Arts. I believe it is important to let children choose but with help and guidance. I don’t read a lot of romance. If someone told me I had to read romance books I would quickly lose my desire to read. Thanks for posting the links. I wish more teachers would get the message and most importantly most administrators.

    • Deva says:

      Sandra, thank you for stopping by! I actually read the post you mention on your blog, having been directed there by someone else (I can’t remember who at the moment) and was so impressed by what you are doing, in the face of that kind of adversity. We need more teachers like you!