Required Reading

Notice that the title of this post is not “On Required Reading,” which would probably talk about the practice of requiring certain books to be read by students taking a particular course. I have thoughts on that, and perhaps I’ll share them here at a later date when I’ve had more time at the high school level to share what I’ve been doing with that.

No, today, I’m here to assign you some required reading. It’s not required for everyone. But if you’re in education, it is. And if you’re not in education but you set educational policy, then you have to read everything I mention here today twice. Thrice. Four times. Until it sinks in, however long that takes.

They’re short reads, but worth me using whatever meager audience I pull here to redirect you to them.

The first is today’s Nerdy Book Club post by Jim Bailey, “Curing the Reading GERM.” This post is from a teacher-turned-principal and what he has done to embrace conferring with students about their reading instead of assigning AR tests to determine if the kids were actually reading. If you are in a school that is over its head with Accelerated Reader, and you know you want to get out but don’t know how, this post is a great starting point. You can find it here.

The second is a post from Donalyn Miller that also went live today. It is called “I’ve Got Research, Yes I Do. I’ve Got Research. How About You?” I can’t help but read that with the cheerleader-style chant Donalyn intended, and I just picture cheerleaders pumping up crowds to discuss research about best practices to develop literacy. We could use more of that. Her post is the first stop for you if you’re looking to compile some of the research that’s out there in defense of independent reading with conferring. You can find it here.

Some highlights from each of them today:

From Jim’s post:
“We were a team that shared a passion for creating lifelong readers.  We supported each other in building classrooms that valued independent reading and strived to create a community of readers.  We saw that this approach was benefitting our students and wanted to share our learning with other teachers.”
“Anyone can fake it on a book report but it’s hard to fake a reading conference.  If you didn’t read the book, it was obvious during the conference.”
“Read aloud time was sacred in the room.  20 minutes every day, no matter what.  It was a reading utopia, and it was working!  Several students jumped 2 or 3 grade levels on the annual reading assessment.  Students told me they read more this year than all the other years of their life combined.  My 32 students read over 1000 books that year.  It was my best year as a classroom teacher.”

From Donalyn’s post:
“Multiple studies since 1977 have identified what helps children learn to read well and become lifelong readers, but the general public and many educators remain ignorant of this research.”
“Stephen Krashen found that the single greatest factor in reading achievement (even above socio-economics) was reading volume—how much reading people do.”
“Why must English teachers constantly defend the need for students to practice reading and writing in a class dedicated to reading and writing?”
“You might be saying to yourself, ‘Oh, you can get research to say anything.’ No, you can’t. You cannot find credible research proving that the Sun rotates around the Earth or that bad air causes diseases. You cannot find research proving that test prep improves children’s reading achievement or test performance.”

::drops mic, walks away::


6 thoughts on “Required Reading

  1. When I was a high school student, I was perpetually baffled by the inability of teachers to tell when a student was faking having read a book. I watched a friend give an entire 10 minute presentation on a classic novel once, with the nagging sensation he wasn’t telling me anything about the book I wouldn’t have been able to get from the book jacket or skimming Wikipedia. When I asked him later if he’d actually read the book, he admitted he hadn’t but was surprised I could tell. Well, apparently the teacher couldn’t tell because he got a great grade on the project.

    So the general point of that story is that, yes, I believe it’s easy for students to fake book reports. However, I have also seen college students in small classes (about 10 students) manage to fake for an hour and 15 minute that they’ve read a book…and completely fool the professor. A one on one conference would definitely put more pressure on, but maybe there will never be a perfect solution.

    • There’s definite faking going on no matter what the assessment is: a paper, a speech, a blog, a conference, etc. I think it’s harder to fake in a one-on-one discussion than it is in a paper. I also know that I don’t want to be in a spot where I just catch my students faking. I want to help them develop an authentic love for reading that faking it isn’t even on their radar of things that they would do. I know that’s the case when my students tell me they didn’t do their reading. We’re working on that, but I know they’re at least being honest.

      • I’ve seen students fake having read books throughout all my schooling. In some cases, I believe the professors knew the students hadn’t read the material, but simply didn’t want to call them out on it. (Of course, in college, you have a far greater workload and professors may, to some extent, feel more sympathetic to those who couldn’t read three or four novels in a week.)

        However, when you present on a book or even simply discuss in a seminar, you have control of where the conversation goes and, thus, I think it’s much easier to fake knowledge of a work in that context. Once you get into a one-on-one situation, the other person can ask questions and steer the discussion toward parts of the book you haven’t read or can’t fake. (For example, I knew a girl who would read only the opening chapters of a book in order to pretend she’d read it, but if you got her into a conversation and referred to the climax of the story, she was obviously very lost.)

        There may be no perfect way to ensure that students do all the assigned reading, but a one-on-one conversation is the best solution I have seen so far. I’m also impressed by the kind of commitment it would take on behalf of a teacher to do that. And I think many students would respond favorably to someone who made them time for them and would do the reading, just so as not to disappoint that teacher.

        • You hit on something so huge here: the role relationships play in this entire process of education. It may be to not disappoint the teacher, but it may also be a recognition of “Hey, this teacher is investing time into me as an individual. Maybe I should respect and honor that and give them the same treatment back.” I’ve found that that does help some with students doing the work, but it helps immensely with them being honest with me about where they are as a reader and what they’ve actually read.

      • That’s very true. The student in me has an “Ugh, why do other people get away with faking?!?!” reaction. The teacher in me is more invested in getting my students to actually care about their work. Last semester I was the teaching assistant in a class where I had to lead weekly discussions on a text that the majority of the students admitted to me they weren’t bothering to read. I’m fairly new to teaching, so I don’t think I ever really solved the problem, but I’m hoping to improve. So far the extent of the advice I’ve gotten from mentors is essentially that I myself should act more excited in the classroom.

        • Acting more excited can help, but if it’s an act, the students will see right through it. They may act excited in return, which again, is just a different type of faking it. But genuine excitement — that can really get them going. It’s a positive sign that they’re admitting to you they’re not reading it. There’s a level of trust there, at least.

          I was about to write a response that was laden with advice, but then I realized that you’re not necessarily asking for that. I do hope you’re able to get whatever students you’re working with reading and enjoying it. You’re a reader, so that will help out a lot.

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