As a second grade teacher, one of my primary goals is to foster not just reading improvement but a deep love of reading. Because of this, I believe that making reading a part of “homework” is perhaps the most misguided decision ever made. We all know that readers gain skill the more they read. This does not mean we should force the reading. Studies show that a love for reading is four times more powerful in predicting future success than a parent’s level of education.
The combined effect on children’s progress of reading books often, going to the library regularly and reading newspapers at 16 was four times greater than the advantage children gained from having a parent with a degree.
Amazingly, the love of reading has been proven to positively impact mathematics.
The IOE study, which is believed to be the first to examine the effect of reading for pleasure on cognitive development over time, found that children who read for pleasure made more progress in maths, vocabulary and spelling between the ages of 10 and 16 than those who rarely read.
So what do we do? We have systems in place that make reading nightly mandatory as part of the student’s homework. I work within in a district that once had a program that was designed to inspire students to read as much as they could to increase the number of log sheet entries. These entries determined their level in a prize-reward system. For most students, this contest-styled program was very popular and effective in getting students to voluntarily read. As years went by, the funding for prizes dried up and the philosophy moved from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. What we are left with now is what I would characterize as a reading race with no finish line.
For several years I have downplayed the importance of the reading log sheet as I see them as completely against my personal views on reading. Things I love to do I do not list each time I do them; it would dull the shine and in no way would it increase the frequency. For two years now I don’t even hand reading logs out. Not one parent has complained. There has to be a better way.
Freedom Readum Days
I have been teaching for 13 years, and on every Library Special Day I have allowed student choice to read whatever they wanted no matter what level it was. Students loved the freedom to choose and many struggling readers loved taking books from those seemingly “out of reach” bins. I limited these days because of all the research into the zone of proximal development that was introduced by Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky.
Many of my students have Individualized Education Programs, IEPs. They can be reading two grade levels below and want to take a book from a bin that is two grade levels above. But this year that shifted. For reasons I am not too sure of, every time students asked if they could have a Freedom Readum day I obliged. I immediately noticed an increased level of engagement during independent reading time. I was aware that I was redirecting or addressing unwanted student behavior less.
Then the payoff really became apparent. Coming back to school after the Christmas break I sat and evaluated each student’s independent reading levels using my beloved and trusted Developmental Reading Assessment, DRA2. I was completely shocked to see a dramatic improvement of my readers across the board. I had to move up every student into the next level or allow them to start taking from the next level as they were about to make the jump. We are talking about going up two – sometimes three – DRA levels in a time frame that would usually see a one level increase! I decided to run with it and trust my gut instincts.
Last week I sat my class down and asked them to describe their favorite reading environment at home. Not a single student said sitting in a chair at a desk. I heard stories of couches, beds, blankets, pets snuggling, nooks, or even reading in the bottom of the closet with pillows. One repeating element was any student who had a fireplace said they loved sitting in front of it during the winter. So I gave control over to the students to design and implement their perfect classroom reading time. This is what they came up:
I should trust my students more, because this is amazing. It’s time to make reading an enjoyment and not a chore. We are killing the motivation that naturally exists in each student. We must become miners of that gold. My students now moan when I tell them reading time is over. I have them going home now and designing personal reading spaces in their houses and rooms. An upcoming project is to have them take a picture of them reading in it. I will hang these up and use them as their classroom writing FaceBook Icons. We create FaceBook accounts on paper and our daily writing becomes our “Posts”. Students then do a gallery walk, read friends’ posts and then leave comments or likes. It’s one way of bringing Joy to Writing.
Inspiring students to find joy in reading will carry them through their entire academic careers and make them avid readers for a lifetime. Students possess the knowledge of what they would like to read and how they would like to read it. I suggest all teachers and parents simply get out of the way and let the students enjoy reading. It was the great Irishman William Butler Yeats who said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” So let’s light the fire and let the students curl up in front of it with a book.