Where is the Joy of Reading?

According to a new study in a Washington Post article:

At a time when more authors are writing more books for young people, fewer children are reading for pleasure. A recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts showed that the percentage of 13- to 17-year-olds who read daily for fun dropped from 31 percent to 22 percent between 1984 and 2004. The amount they read for school has not changed.

Oddly enough, this is what a group of middle and high school teachers discussed at a recent alignment meeting. My position, however, was quite unpopular with the district office leaders.

I explained that I feel that students are not taught to read for enjoyment. Every time we (teachers) assign a text to read, we quiz, test, and analyze the life right out of it. Apparently, some writers and teachers agree with me:

Some educators and authors say they believe the emphasis on standardized tests in the No Child Left Behind education law has made teachers less willing to experiment with new or unusual books. “Kids are getting less and less choice, and it’s sad,” said author Jon Scieszka, the U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, adding that his son once saw reading as only a school activity.

When do we allow students to read simply for the pleasure of the activity? I have one book each year in my Sophomore Honors class and one in my American Literature class where the students simply read for pleasure. With my Honors class, I generally let the students read Ender’s Game or The Princess Bride for pleasure, which they don’t realize until we finish. I do the same for one book in American Literature, either One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or The Crucible or a novel of their choosing.

With each we use a fish bowl to simply discuss what they enjoyed, remembered, connected with, or simply wanted to discuss. They lead the discussions while I observe unless a question is directed to me. It’s great. No tests. No quizzes. No projects.

I think I’d like to incorporate something else. Graphic novels? Blogs? Online magazines? Even comics? Maybe I’ll just let everyone bring what they want to read. I’m not sure, but I’m thinking I want to allow the students to read for pleasure more often.

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6 thoughts on “Where is the Joy of Reading?

  1. Kim

    I read your blog often but haven’t felt the need to put my two cents in until now. I have two elementary-aged sons who are required to read books in the Accelerated Reader program. My 4th grader loved to read until about 2nd grade, when AR seemed to take over our lives. Right now, his goal is 21 points for a 9 weeks, which is approximately 5 to 7 novels of 150 pages or so. My 1st grader has a goal of 17 points. At his reading level, all books are worth .5. That means he has to read and score 100% on at least 34 books. 34. In one nine weeks.

    Even though I’m a HS English teacher, I believe that AR is wrong. Forcing kids to read so much in such a short time period is killing any love for reading they might have. My older son used to read for pleasure. Now I have to force him to read for AR. My younger son still likes to read. I’m only hoping that love will last. He’s just now starting to get into chapter books.

    I agree with your comments about overanalyzing and overtesting in HS. However, if kids aren’t tested, how do you ensure all the kids read the books you assign? Most of my students wouldn’t read at all for pleasure. Many don’t read when it’s assigned.

    What to do????

    Reply
  2. drpezz Post author

    I just talk to my guys one on one when they have self-choice reading. It’s actually pretty easy to discover who is reading and who is trying to bluff their way through things. Also, I just watch my kids when we reading reading time in class.

    Thanks for commenting. It lets me know you’re out there. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Betty

    Personally, I would much rather read than watch television. It allows me to go at my own pace. Having a class discussion is the best way to find out if the students are actually reading and understanding the material. It’s funny how some kids try to bluff their way through and come up with some answers that make everyone laugh.

    Reply
  4. McSwain

    I’m a 4th-grade teacher and a 3rd grader’s mom. Kids don’t read for pleasure because reading logs, etc. take the joy out of it, and because they have too much homework already.

    When I was a kid, I read constantly. I also didn’t have any homework until jr. high, and then not much. Somehow I managed to grow up to be a responsible adult and graduate both HS and college with honors despite the lack of homework. Fancy that.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Reading Killjoys? « The Doc Is In

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