I hope you followed the links in the story as well. They are a revelation. The link to the article in The Atlantic is particularly troubling. Here is the link in case you missed it: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/teachers-are-supposed-to-assign-harder-books-but-they-arent-doing-it-yet/280760/. The piece discusses a survey by the Fordham Institute (not to be confused with the university), a "think tank" (and you should take that label with the proverbial grain of salt). Take a close look at the chart that is causing most of the hand-wringing early on in the article. The stat that bothers me most if that only 23% of educators select a book for OTHER reasons. Under this heading of OTHER is student interest. OH. EM. GEE. Interest is something to be filed under OTHER. I want to cry right here and now to think that interest is "other" and that it is used so seldom to recommend a book to a reader.
Imagine if we were to enter a bookstore, ask for help with a book, and be given a book that does not meet our interests or a book that is only on (or above) our reading ability, exile level=, or some other measurement that has little or nothing to do with engagement, interest, etc. How would we respond? I would ask for a manager. I would leave the store. What can kids do? Not. A. Thing.
The survey goes on to delineate the commonly taught books at various levels and decries the lack of complexity. First, please note that teachers were given a list from which to select books they used. This was not a list generated by the responses of the teachers. I would assume that such a list would have such a HUGE range of titles to begin with. But do look at the numbers despite this flaw. HUCK FINN, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and FAHRENHEIT 451 are not suitable for high school since the lexiles are beneath the "bands. Ditto THE PEARL and A WRINKLE IN TIME for middle school and a couple of titles at the elementary level. Conclusion: teachers are not doing their jobs. How I wish there had been additional part to this survey, one that asked for the attitudes towards books and reading of the students in the various classes. Did kids who read only within their exile love reading as much as kids who were given books based on their professed interests?
This type of research is prevalent today. I wonder how it has become acceptable to conduct research that would not meet the scrutiny (you remember that word from last week, right) of a doctoral defense committee? I wonder why more people are not rejecting this research based on its rather sloppy construction? I wonder how it is possible to draw conclusions and have them make headlines as this one does?
Maybe it is time to honor the research being done within classrooms like those of Donalyn Miller and Paul Hankins and Katherine Sokolowski. Take a look at what they are doing and the levels of ENGAGEMENT of their students and the amount of reading being done and the level of the discussion and talk about books and reading.
Let's take a look at some of the real research. Join Donalyn Miller and me for a discussion of Dick Allington's article, EVERY CHILD, EVERY DAY. The article is here: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar12/vol69/num06/Every-Child,-Every-Day.aspx. Join us for a Twitter chat on April 12 at 7 pm Central time. Use this hashtag: #bpbasics (best practice basics: those touchstone pieces that we need to read and re-read to remind ourselves of what is important).