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When it comes to reading, more is more

favicon Ted Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Skills, believed that “less is more” — that teachers and schools should focus on depth rather than breadth of curriculum.

Instead of learning a massive number of standards (for example, there are 50 standards for 10th grade World History in California, according to Kelly Gallagher), students should focus on just a few and learn them deeply.

Though it’s controversial to say so, that’s part of the goal of the Common Core State Standards. The CCSS will reduce the number of standards in English Language Arts to 10 per grade level. As students get older, the standards get harder, but they don’t change.

What also won’t change — despite much consternation — is the amount of nonfiction being taught in English classrooms. (Please read this article by Carol Jago.)

But what will change is the difficulty and the amount of reading — in two ways.

First, Common Core demands that teachers assign more challenging texts. Second, the standards require students to devote much more time to reading.

Ms. Jago sees both changes as good ones — that when it comes to reading, more is more. Instead of fearing that students won’t read for homework, assign it. Rather than viewing a video, give students a reading. Be passionate about reading and your students will follow, Ms. Jago says. And if you don’t believe her, just remember the one thing she knows for sure: “The teenagers I taught were always hungry (for literature).”

Though I sometimes bristle at Ms. Jago’s confidence (perhaps from jealousy?), I tend to agree with her. Students like to read, but they like to whine first and say they don’t like to read, knowing that we’ll succumb to their complaints. But it’ll take a significant shift for reading to become a substantial part of the typical high schooler’s day. In my observations this year, I’d estimate that students spend an average of 20-25 minutes per day reading.

For more to be more, for reading to be emphasized, for students to improve their reading skills, and for students to achieve the Common Core standards, that will have to change. favicon


  1. Heidi G

    “Be passionate about reading and your students will follow.”
    I have never thought about how important it is to consistently express enthusiasm about reading. And to share with students how much I love reading on my own. I’m going to try this.

    • Mark Isero

      Sounds great, Heidi G! I think we teachers feel small and nerdy and uncool and unconfident when expressing our love of reading — like we should hide it. Let’s be proud! After all, I see reading as the most significant (or second-most, after numeracy) academic gap we face. If we give up on reading, I think we’re giving up on teaching.

Please share your brilliant insights!