It's a new year and that means it is time for me to begin assessing first grade students. For the moment, let's put aside all the alarm bells that are going off in your head about the fact that it is only the second day of school and I am pulling students to do a reading assessment.
As I am walking first graders down the hall, I’m trying to establish rapport and get a gauge on their reading habits in 6.5 seconds by asking questions like
"Do you like to read?"
"What did you read this summer?"
"Do you read at home with mom or dad?"
"What’s your favorite book?"
Almost all the first graders respond in the affirmative – they love to read. Even the ones who can’t decode, tell me that they love reading. It makes my heart sing.
Later, I’m sitting in a fifth grade class and the teacher is having the students talk in groups about what they love and hate about reading.
The love side is short. And even though it says LOVE, their responses are lifeless and over quickly.
The hate side is long.
Words and hand gestures are exchanged. The recording goes on forever.
The students have a lot to say.
They could articulate exactly why they hated to read. We mandated what they had to read. We took away the choice. Dav Pilkey spoke eloquently about the need to allow students choice about the books they are "allowed" to read. You can read his interview here. Without choice, reading is an assignment, something that is done for the teacher.
It comes back down to our purpose for reading. If our purpose is to instill a love of reading and help create lifelong readers, then maybe we allow Captain Underpants and Junie B. Jones to be read in our classrooms. Maybe after a student reads all 50 Diary of a Wimpy Kid books he/she will be ready and eager to tackle something a little more challenging like How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart. But, if right away we are banning 'silly' books, then we have turned the students off from reading before we even begin.