Readicide by Tammy

by Tammy

Julie’s post about NY’s test scores came as I began reading Kelly Gallagher’s book Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It; I’ve only read the first half of the book, but he makes a compelling argument as to why a sudden improvement in test scores is often a case of smoke and mirrors.  He references an investigation by The Dallas Morning News when elementary schools were making radical improvements from one year to the next, yet when the students went from elementary to middle school, their test scores tanked.  He goes on to say that many of the numbers were not reliable because special education students were not counted, and in one year’s time the number of kids classified as special ed. students more than doubled.  The increased importance on testing worries me.  While I know that we need some sort of standard benchmark to see if teachers are doing their job, I think the current model doesn’t work.  As Gallagher says in the book, we’re “valuing the development of test-takers over the development of lifelong readers”.  All in all, I don’t think that we should diminish the improved scores, but I am skeptical of what it really means.

Gallagher speaks in later chapters about over-teaching, something I was definitely guilty of.  When I first started teaching I would give packets of reading comp. questions with each chapter.  Instead of getting my students excited about reading, this over-teaching of the novels had the opposite effect. 
So I did something about it. I implemented IRP, Independent Reading Projects, into the curriculum 3 years ago.  They have 2 of them a year: one that is almost totally open-ended and the other is genre specific.  They have to submit their reading selection for review, and I’ve banned some YA series (No Gossip Girl or Cirque du Freak). More importantly, I let them read in class.  Each year I’m blown away by the delight in the students’ eyes when I tell them that every Friday we are going to simply read a book of their choosing in class. With the extensive after-school schedules of most of my students, setting aside 45 minutes to sit quietly and read a good book rarely, if ever, happens.  I’m lucky because as a teacher in an independent school, we don’t teach to the test.  I get to pick the novels that I want to teach, teach them in whatever order I choose, and drop books when I feel like it.  This year I’m going to add a unit on graphic novels to try and trick some of my more reluctant male students into becoming readers.  We’ll see if it works.

6 thoughts on “Readicide by Tammy

  1. At my kid’s school, there is DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) time every day. Most days it’s for 20 minutes, but I know there are special days (a couple of times a month) when it extends to an hour. If the kids don’t have a book from home, they pick something from the classroom libraries. The older kids (5th grade to 8th) are required to write annotations on a certain number of books every year. They are allowed one pop fiction book (Clique, Twilight) a semester for an annotation. The rest don’t have to be a little more challenging.
    I know one of the things that the school has done with special ed students in reading is to have iPods loaded with the books- and the kids read along while listening. They also do some group readings- where one of the stronger readers in class reads aloud to more of the struggling readers while they follow along. Another technique I’ve seen used is lots of pre-reading discussions about plot, etc. before a struggling reader dives in.
    We do nothing to teach to the test, really, and the kids score really highly because of everything the teachers do in our regular curriculum. Most of the time even special ed students can meet grade level. I remember last year 100% of our 8th graders were at proficient or above, and 20% of that class was on IEP’s.


  2. I was a weird little boy. I used to hurry to finish my work so I could read quietly in the back. Usually I read the encyclopedia because I’d finished the regular books.


  3. I’ve got to get that book. It sounds fascinating. I worry about making reading a chore (if I should ever find a teaching job, that is), but everyone has her own theories about how to avoid that, and the theories tend to contradict one another. Also, I think that the successful strategies will be different depending on the school and the individual kid.
    I was like MH, though, and couldn’t wait to finish my work so I could read my own books. Amazingly, my fifth grade teacher told my parents that I read too much, so they forbid it for a while. I would sit in my bedroom closet with a flashlight, and when my mother showed up in the doorway (from which you could not see the closet interior), I’d shout out that I was cleaning out my clothes.
    My brother, on the other hand, would have been termed a reluctant reader, but his time “on restriction” (meaning grounded) turned him into a champion reader. He was often in trouble, and there was nothing else to do in his room but read. He ended up an English major.


  4. Reading a lot isn’t a problem around here, and I too was a reader who snuck books behind my other work. My daughter just got in trouble for doing that recently, and I couldn’t really get very upset, though I hope her school is more engaging than mine was.
    I think Suze’s school & kid comment is an important one. To keep my kid reading, I don’t need to do anything more than keep a constant supply of books available.
    But, we have had to limit reading — most notably, reading during recess/lunch time, and while walking. Reading is great, but children who love to read, all the time, do have a tendency to be more sedentary. Especially if they really need the reading — physical activities sometimes lack mental stimulation, especially if you’re not all that good.


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