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Reviving Reading: The Death of Reading Is Not Inevitable

by Angela Maiers

Reading matters to me.

110025

On a personal level, it is one of my favorite ways of spending time. In fact, reading is so important to me that I notice I'm less happy when I get busy with other matters and let reading fall by the wayside

On a professional level, I have devoted nearly two decades to helping students and educators discover ways to share the benefits, joys, and powers that come from membership into "The Literacy Club."

I was ecstatic to see the March 2010 edition of Education Leadership wholly devoted to this complex and vital topic. The authors explore what does and does not create powerful habits and lifelong commitments to reading while addressing the identity and practice of reading in global, digital context. These conversations come at a critical time as we are making local, national, and international decisions about what we consider, value, and demand reading and readers to be.

Given the depth and the permanence of the pleasures and possibilities of reading, we should be bold and argue on behalf of reading as it is increasingly tied to our ability to access, understand, and share information.

The messages in this issue of EL are a reminder to all that the key to reading and content area success lies more with capturing the heart that it does the page. The ability to read accurately, process and analyze data effectively, and confirm that comprehension has occurred means little if the reader does not see the act worthy of their time and attention.

In this world where so much is riding on our students reading and literacy abilities, where competition for their attention if immense, we can not hope to meet this standard without stirring their hearts in the process. 

I was lucky enough to have had this conversation with several classrooms of fourth and fifth grade students recently. I shared the grim statistics of the 4th grade slump, we looked at the looming drops in content area classrooms due in large part to lack of reading ability, and we had some very candid talks about how reading was presented in their classroom and school. Here is their insight into the conversation:

"The problem the world is facing with readers is pretty serious, and I don't just mean the test score thing. Many fifth graders I know hate reading! For this reason, we need to think about letting kids have more choice in what they read. If we could choose our own books and have a chance to talk to other readers about what we have discovered, I am just sure that we would become better readers. It would be because we wanted to, not because we had to for the test or assignments." Maria, Grade 5

"In the last two days, I have been thinking a lot about what Mrs. Maiers has shared with us. What I figured out could really change the statistics is our hearts not our brains. When you read with your heart you see reading as a freedom. You are inspired, you feel connected, and you enjoy the book even when its hard-especially when it is hard. That is when you know you really worked to get to the message. Reading should not be about levels and points. There is no freedom in that. You just get boxed in." Landon Grade 4

"Reading is a privilege not a score. This is what I have discovered in the last two days. Readers might work differently and harder, if they know what reading could do for you. The most important thing that helped me was being able to talk to other readers about what reading meant to them. Just hearing what they liked and disliked helped me appreciate what I could do as a reader. I as actually able to help someone who disliked reading even more than I did, see it as a privilege. We need to have more talks like this." Liam- Grade 5

Finally, a summary from a fifth grade group (their quotes, unedited by any adult):

To Readers Read, Want to Read, and Help Others Read... 

  • Get rid of levels- can't we just read books that we care about and matter?
  •  Let us talk about the books we read in groups, with other readers. Not just in the groups that are at our level.
  • Let us talk openly about why we do and do not like reading. When we can share what makes it hard, we have more of a chance to help one another.
  • Stop making reading a competition. No more points. Readers at Barnes and Nobles don't go there on Saturday because they get 50 points. They go there to meet other readers.
  • Don't judge people by what they can't read or do not like to read.
  • Let us help others read. If we had time, we could learn about what we need, and then we could help one another be better.
  • Let us do more reading and not more worksheets or tests on reading. We could then concentrate on the book, we might even try new books because we just want to read them. We do not want to try to read more books because we are going to have to take more tests then.
  • Reading helps with our future jobs. It would be great to know what kind of reading doctors or scientist do, so if we wanted to do that job we could start practicing that early.
  • If you want us to love reading, our teachers have to love it too. When they are exited about what they are reading and learning, we get excited to even if it is not a book we would have chosen.
  • Give us comfortable chairs. We know that they more we read, the better we will get. That is really hard to do at a hard desk. Have you ever seen desks like that at Barnes and Noble? There is a reason for that!

I am not sure there is scientifically based research about the comfort level of the chair, but students were spot on in every other category. To help students love reading, keep loving reading, and help others in the process they need: 

  • Choice, 
  • Authenticity, 
  • Time,
  • Access,  
  • Be surrounded by other readers (maybe the most important of this list)

These voices remind us that we can not underestimate the transformative power of a carefully chosen book shared within a passionate community of readers. We can not underestimate the power of a teacher modeling his/her passion for books and the authors who so graciously share their talent and lives with us. We can not underestimate the power of REAL. When our students engage in the behaviors, actions, and decision making of real readers, they see reading in a whole new light. They are willing to work, they are willing to take on more challenge, they are willing...because it's, well... it's what real readers do.

And, most importantly, we can not underestimate our readers. 

Talk to them, use the conversations here and in this amazing issue to jump start the conversation. It's amazing where the conversation takes you!

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