The culprit here is the practice some schools use for weighting grades. The residents of the back bedroom went to a school that did just this. Kids were graduating with 5.8 GPAs because of the number of accelerated and advanced placement classes they were taking. Other kids (including one of the former residents of the back bedroom) would skate by with a C or D knowing it would magically transform to a passing grade with the weighted grades thrown into the mix. What message does this send the students? I know the message for one of my own: pull a C or D and you, too, can pass the class and even get a higher GPA than some kids who were not taking the AP version of the class but still pulling a B. This is yet another example of grade inflation, IMHO.
This obsession with AP and advanced courses and taking classes at the college level which still in high school has made its way down the ladder. It is now in elementary schools where kids are encouraged to take algebra despite the fact that many are not developmentally ready to tackle the abstraction it requires. Questions about mood, tone, and theme are reaching younger and younger readers, again kids whose development makes these questions seem as if they are posed by aliens about alien text.
College texts are now red in high school; high school texts shuffle down to middle school, and middle school books make their way to the elementary school. Why? Why do we keep pushing things down? Why are we pushing kids ahead? What is the world is wrong with letting kids read developmentally text? What is wrong with building them some scaffolds (I prefer ladders of course) to help them move from text to text to text. What is wrong with lingering on a step of that ladder or scaffold to catch a breath or to do a balance check?
I worry that in all this pushing and shuffling some good books are being missed. Is there time for BROWN BEAR and THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and I WANT MY HAT BACK and other staples of childhood reading? Do kids who read THE GIVER in elementary school "get" it at a depth older readers do and will? Why can't some texts wait? And why does CCSS insist that kids read ABOVE their levels and lexiles? Quite frankly, if I had to read above my exile and level, I would probably NOT be a lifelong reader. Recently, a school librarian asked a listserv for some help tracking down books with middle school content at a 1200 Lexile. Only a handful of books were located, 4 of them by Louisa May Alcott. There is something really wrong here, folks.
If we wish to usher kids into the reading club, if we want them to be readers even after they leave our classes (and that includes my own graduate students), we need to help them find those touchstone books, the ones that pull them in and hold them hostage, that keep them turning pages, keep them reading past bedtime. One of my friends who is teaching in NYC posted that almost half her class had read ahead of the assigned page in NIGHT. They could not stop; they needed to know what was going to happen next and then and then. These are the kids who are college ready. They love reading. They know the power of text; they know the importance of reading (fiction included, too, Mr. Coleman). These are the kids I want in my classes.
Yesterday I was reading the latest DIARY OF A WIMPY KID at the hairdresser's. The initial question was stated with some level of disbelief, "Are you reading WIMPY KID?" I explained that I was, it was part of my job, and that I loved the books. Opening boxes of books, knowing there will be tons of books next week in Boston, has me almost euphoric. And I am not alone. I will join almost 500 people at the ALAN workshop. There will be buzzing and cries of exultation as boxes are opened, as the swapping begins, as authors autograph. These are my colleagues and friends and mentors. To use lines from a Queen song: "we are the champions my fiends, and we'll keep on fighting to the end." We are the champions. We will fight for our kids, for their right for the just right books.