Books are Enough

The Power of Free, Self-Selected Reading

The Book Gap

In reading classes we are often forced to give a lot of tests. Administrators unbaptized in what really matters for readers often demand skill worksheets and computer programs. They love to see kids online, mindlessly clicking away. They love to see kids filling out worksheets. Here are some of my observations…

So called struggling readers are usually kids who… 1. Do not have access to books. 2. Do not have (or are not given) time to read what they like. 3.Have never found a home run book. 4. Have been bored to tears in school with zombie worksheets and computer programs.

Poor students often lack access to books. When schools refuse to allow students to read- especially those with little access at home- they exacerbate the “book gap.” I thought of this term yesterday. I do not know if it already exists. For me, the book gap consists of two parts that are related.

1. The available resources at home for book reading (self selected). This includes local libraries and home libraries. It also includes the ability to get to book stores and the availability of those stores. Do parents read to, or with their children?

2. The available resources at school for book reading. Is the library available most of the time?  What percentage of classrooms have class libraries? Is there a school wide reading time? How much free reading of comprehensible text is allowed on a weekly basis? Are reading classes skill-drill-kill or are kids reading what they want most of the time? How extensive are the classroom libraries? How much reading time is lost due to testing?

My friends, the poorest students and those who need the most time to read are almost always given the least amount of time to read and become book-loving kids.  They are trapped in a skill-drill-kill world. They are never given the chance to explore language in context and acquire the “ways of the reader.”

The book gap involves- ACCESS and TIME.  There is a massive amount of empirical evidence that readers do better in school and on tests (see NAEP). Readers also have bigger and more complex vocabularies and awareness of “nuance” in language.

The achievement gap is all based on the BOOK GAP.

PS: Regardless of what any administrator suggests, my kids read at least 60 minutes for each 90 minute block. They read what they want and we have wonderful discussions about each book in one on one conferences. Skills are acquired and not taught. Students differentiate by choosing their own books that are comprehensible. If we allowed students to do this from the start of their school careers, they would naturally progress to more complex text. Instead, we refuse to allow them the ACCESS and TIME needed.

Common Core gets it wrong when it assumes harder is better. Folks like Tim Shanahan say there is no evidence that students develop by reading simple text. He fails to realize that students who are readers always develop and progress to more complex text. Once again, those students who are avid readers rarely have problems with state or national tests. They usually do just fine in college and they are (most importantly) book-loving citizens.

You take the Common Core/Tim Shanahan/David Coleman approach if you want. I will stick with Elley, Allington, Krashen, and Gambrell.  My kids will do better and benefit more- EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Anyone up for a challenge?



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3 thoughts on “The Book Gap

  1. Pingback: Teaching Reading in High Schools | Annotary

    • Hi. Here are some options. I have used all of these at some point!
      A. Local organizations willing to donate
      B. Parent letter requesting help
      D. Fundraiser to get $ so you can buy books
      E. Ask principal- this actually worked once and I got $300.
      F. Used book stores can often help
      G. Contact local literacy foundations
      H. Contact professional sports teams
      I. AD in paper- Yes I did this!
      J. Grants from school. There are funds from Title One that can easily go towards books.
      K. Talk with school volunteer contact. I got parents to round me up books and get donations.
      *Sometimes you just have to go buy books. I spend $500 a year on books. I just know I have to do it.

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