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This is what happens when our society doesn’t value reading

 On Monday, my students did their second practice open essay for AP English. There was a prompt, as usual, but instead of having to read a passage of prose or a poem, students got to write about a literary work of their choice.

Even after I told them they should choose a book we’ve read this year — or, in a worst-case scenario, a book they’ve read in a high school English class — one student wrote on The Giver and another wrote on A Child Called “It.”

Yes, these are sixth grade books.

Which got me thinking: There’s not a whole lot of reading going on.

Students, even the best ones, fake read through high school. Reading teacher Donalyn Miller writes about it. So does reading teacher Cris Tovani. As teachers, we see it. And as students, we all did it.

The reason that my two students wrote about middle school books is that those books are probably the last ones they really read, understood deeply, and savored.

We can blame the students, get mad at them. Or we can say it’s the teachers’ fault. But what Steve Jobs said is true, “People don’t read anymore.”

Yesterday, renowned reading teacher Carol Jago tweeted, “My recipe for raising NAEP reading scores: Have every man, woman, and child in the US read 20+ books every year.”

I totally agree. If we want our young people to be skilled readers and writers, and if we want them to care about their world, we need to inundate them with books and magazines, and we need to read like crazy ourselves and not be afraid to talk mercilessly about the tons we read. 

2 comments

  1. paintingwithbrains

    I agree with everything you said! The 20+ books a year is a hefty goal, but totally attainable. Personally, I set a goal of 15 books each summer. (This year I only got to 8, but that’s still a lot!)

    Even though I teach art, I try to challenge my kids to read more. It’s easiest when a book-based-movie is about to come out. I told a few kids that whenever I hear a movie is being made from a book, I challenge myself to read the book first, that way I can really say, “The book was better than the movie” or vice versa. They seemed to like that idea, and a few of them have tried it.

    • Mark Isero

      I like your read-the-book-first idea! I just showed my students the movie version of Beloved (after they struggled with the book), and even though they didn’t much like the book, they still said, “The book was much better than the movie!”

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