Books are Enough

The Power of Free, Self-Selected Reading

How do students get the “struggling reader” label?

The reasons that most students get labeled as “struggling readers” should shock you. Students are the victims, but who are the culprits?

Problems begin at home. Small children who are read to and spoken to a lot avoid many early problems. Small children who grow up in homes full of books also avoid many early problems. Poverty is one of the main reasons why problems develop. This is why local library programs are so valuable. When a parent works all the time- they have little time to read to, and with, their children. Before many students come to school- they are not book lovers and lack an appropriate vocabulary base. Students who have been read to a lot and have been surrounded by books- encouraged to explore- get off to a good start. 

Schools should be able to lessen the effects of poverty by giving kids access to books and plenty of time to read. Schools can put students on the road to becoming book loving citizens. But what happens? Students are tested to death from the start and many are labeled as struggling. In Florida, for example, there is a law that all kindergarten students must be tested in the first few months of school. Guess which kids score poorly on the test and get labeled as struggling readers?

What happens to our newly labeled struggling readers? They are put on computer programs, given a heavy dose of phonics and forced to do some packaged program of instruction – “Fundations” anyone?

Our “struggling readers” fall further behind. The students who need to read real books the most- are often denied that right. I know many great teachers who feel it is seen as a subversive act to get books into the hands of kids. It takes a brave teacher to ignore what the state and district force on you when you know it is harmful.

As our “struggling readers” reach  middle school- what happens? Many are put on computer programs like “READ180.” Sadly, our middle school students continue to be denied the access to books and time they need to read them. 

Schools are forced to reinforce the effects of poverty! Only brave teachers fight the insanity to save kids. By middle school, even kids not in poverty are falling behind those kids who have been book-loving students from a young age. Students not in “intervention” classes get to read while those in intervention classes are forced to do skill-drill-kill and sit in front of flickering computer screens.

Students who are book loving students from an early age do just fine. Why are states and districts giving billions to educational materials companies to buy packaged programs and computer programs? What a boondoggle! Many kids could be saved early on with Reading Recovery but it is often called “too expensive” as districts throw billions to READ180 and READING PLUS. 

Our “struggling readers” enter high school and the same old thing happens. The students who were stuck on computer programs for three years in middle school are given more of the same. Many fail to graduate. Reading researcher Richard Allington pointed out that students should be reading REAL books for at least 60 minutes for each 90 minutes of a literacy block. Good teachers- who know what works and know our job is to create book loving citizens – are constantly fighting against the insanity forced on them and students. 

Students who claim to “hate reading” have one thing in common. They have never been given the time to read and access to books they are entitled to. When a loving teacher who refuses to be bullied by directives gives a kid that first book that excites him/her- the life of that student is changed forever. 

Sadly, some students are not allowed to find that first home run book until high school.

But wait! There is another culprit here. Testing. Students who score (for example) a 244 and not 245 on some standardized reading test are labeled as “struggling.” Is this a scam or what? Cut scores are political hammers that are used to create and continue what David Berliner and Bruce Biddle called the “manufactured crisis.” 





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