April 27th, 2017

reading ladders

Standing room only

One of the unfortunate side effects of my cancer treatment has been neuropathy in my feet. The neuropathy means I am unsteady; I step carefully; I plan my steps. All it takes is one small miscalculation to make me stumble. It also means I do my presentations from a seated position. I adjust. I move on. As my friend reminds me, "this is the new normal."

Recent posts on Facebook remind me of the need to plan carefully, to be steady. One blog post by Dr. Timothy Shanahan was about reading aloud to older reader: http://shanahanonliteracy.com/blog/how-much-reading-to-kids-in-middle-school#sthash.ofW1vJAh.dpbs. Shanahan praises reading aloud to infants and small children, but when it comes to reading to older kids, "Despite the ubiquitous advice to read to kids, there is really no research showing the practice has much direct impact on reading. It does improve oral language, and that may (or may not) translate to improvement in reading—but that has yet to be proven." I beg to differ. Meta-analyses of reading aloud studies indicate that this practice does impact reading. And Shanahan even discusses how it can influence vocabulary and fluency. It might even be a good model.

I have just completed a chapter on reading aloud for a forthcoming book. I gathered the research, some of it decades old but still valid (and what is it with ignoring past research as if somehow age makes it crumble and disintegrate?). The other research, the anecdotal kind, also suggests the effectiveness of reading aloud to older kids. Here is a recent piece on the value of reading aloud to older readers: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/05/14/why-reading-aloud-to-older-children-is-valuable/.

The other blog post that caught my attention was touting a "program" that helped middle school kids gain 4-5 years in comprehension. Of course, any program arouses my suspicions. But I paused after the first bullet point: NO JUNK BOOKS (emphasis mine). "This is really important. None of those books written in “text message” format. These books set children on an endless loop, reading and rereading the same books that say nothing and mean nothing. They’re laden with poor grammar, “stupid” humor, rude comments, and unappealing characters. Students begin to associate books with instant gratification and thoughtless, mind-numbing entertainment."

This is book shaming. It asserts that some books are not worthy of readers. I beg to differ here as well. When someone other than the reader decides a book is not worthy, kids lose. I read the books this blogger would eliminate with an eye to the appeal it would have to readers. Would Peter have loved this book? How might Jennifer have responded to this series? I think back to the readers I worked with in middle school. There are books to meet the interests and preferences of all readers. A good educator (teacher, librarian, administrator) does not shame books nor limit what students can read.

A confession: I love "junk" books. I love "stupid" humor. I also love the more literary books as well. Why can't my reading plate contain a little bit of everything? Why can't I extend the same to my students?

And so I take careful steps, steps that ensure I do not eliminate a practice such as reading aloud because the research might be "old," steps that ensure I do not book shame. I plan; I take a stand. I do not stumble.