Books are Enough

The Power of Free, Self-Selected Reading

I Choose Book Floods over Common Core

In response to common core I shall continue to provide what students need- access to (and time to) read books of their choosing. Last year former IRA president and leading reading researcher Dick Allington reminded us that in a 90 minute block, students should be engaged in self-selected reading no less than 60 minutes. I am amazed that students living in book poverty are forced to continue in book poverty in schools. Federal, state, and local nabobs are all responsible for promoting the killing of reading with packaged programs- including online programs. Students need a lot of books  that they can relate to and enjoy. I could care less about test scores. I want to enable students to grow into book loving citizens.  My students have some of the best results in the state. When asked what program I use I simply hold up a YA novel that costs me about $10. But the students become lifelong readers. That is what matters.

Oddly, common core goes against what scores of reading research tells us about struggling readers. If we got kids reading a lot- from first grade on – there would be little need for remediation in later years. The moment we connect students with the power of self-selected reading we begin to rehabilitate them from years of skill-drill-kill malpractice.

Younger students are often bored to tears with intensive phonics and worksheets when they could be learning the same thing from “Big Books” and books of their choice. Rhyme, Rhythm, and Repetition are the three R’s that younger students need – (Dan, Dan the flying man). And you wonder why kids are growing up with a disdain for reading? Mind you- the higher level students who have been avid readers for years- do fine on tests and are often exempt from this test prep madness. When are we going to bring these students (who grow up in book poverty) into the community of readers?

A recent common core presentation by the Florida Department of “Education” incorrectly stated that “Mature language skills needed for success in school and life can only be gained by working with demanding materials.” This, of course, is totally wrong and anti-evidence. I hardly think that one is doomed in life if they cannot answer manufactured questions about “Antigone” or a piece of dense non-fiction. Success in school and life is not based on common core tests or the SAT.  How did we let those with no life commitment to students fool us into a common core coma?

Of course there is no need for common core at all. The myth of broken schools is being pushed by politicians and ersatz educators like Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates,  Jeb Bush, and Arne Duncan. What is worse is that groups like AFT, NCTE, NEA, and even the IRA are feeding the common core crocodile – hoping to be eaten last.  As our non-poverty students and low poverty public schools score at the top of international tests- the Jeb Bush test cult tells us we are failing. These same individuals dither while US child poverty is hovering near 25%.

The  “achievement gap” begins long before students ever enter a school building. Growing up in book poverty and or actual poverty takes its toll. Schools and teachers  have become scapegoats for the ills of society. The response to all of this is- more testing! The immoral RTTT program has cascaded into diverting billions more to the educational testing complex. This is a social crime of mass proportions. So my answer to common core is  a polite “NO.”

PS: You have the audacity to try and stop teachers when they introduce students to the joy of reading after they spent 7-10 years stuck behind a computer and doing mind-numbing worksheets?

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4 thoughts on “I Choose Book Floods over Common Core

  1. “I am amazed that students living in book poverty are forced to continue in book poverty in schools.”
    I too am a believer in self-selected reading. I just wrote about its power in the bilingual/dual language classroom at http://www.iteachduallanguage.blogspot.com/2012/08/another-dual-dilemma-self.html. As a Texas teacher, I am still learning about the influence of the Common Core but I sincerely hope that we can find ways to defend self-selected reading because of its power to teach so many of the standards we would otherwise not be able to address in an authentic way.

  2. My reaction to common core is nearly identical to what you present here but my answer is not a “polite no.” It is more of a “Hell no, I won’t go and I am going to expose your greedy underpinnings to everyone I can reach!”

  3. While I agree, in some sense, with this column, i do not agree that non-fiction is inappropriate reading for kids nor do I agree that students would be unwilling to read non-fiction. I have always found novels to be less engaging and stimulating than non-fiction. As an elementary and middle school student, i really resented the reading books full of (in my youthful opinion) “dumb stories.” In fact, i recall one title in particular, “Ms. Dunn’s lovely lovely farm” as a preposterous story that made me want to throw away the entire book.

    I liked biographies, stories about events, people and places that were real and science stories. Perhaps my disdain for fiction was a result of leveled reading groups, where I was always labeled and placed in the lowest group. I don’t know. While my peers ran around with “the babysitters club,” which I found to be something completely fake and impossible in my own life, I had books about the history of classic film and movie stars who were long sense dead or I had books about famous classical ballet dancers or astronauts. It really wasn’t until my Junior and Senior year that I really took any pleasure in literature class. I recall having two very good teachers and they worked hard to tie what we reading back to the author, or events of the time. Today, my personal library is almost exclusively non-fiction, except for a couple of gifts, my favorite story (that is largely based in the real life experience of one woman) and Harry Potter. Other than that, i have biographies, science books, public policy books, political satire, and other forms of non-fiction.

    I realize it is extremely difficult for some educators to consider alternatives to “young adult fiction,” but that single genre of reading is not the right fit for every student. I am not an educator and I have been told by people who are educators that fiction novels repeatedly give the best demonstration of story arc, allusion, irony, foreshadowing and many other important components of reading, writing, and the English language. So, i do have some understanding of the need to have content that matches the concepts you are teaching. I am suggesting, though, that there may be a student who isn’t a “slow” (i.e. dumb or undeveloped) reader just because he or she is not stimulated by little fiction stories.

    • Thanks so much for commenting. You made my point for self-selection perfectly. We never know where students will go next as they become avid readers. They can choose non-fiction too!

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