I’m in the process of developing a new non-program reading program. By this I mean that I want to develop a program to encourage reading that doesn’t feel like yet another formulaic reading program. The reason I am doing this is because I feel that the current leading reading program being used in the majority of our schools here in the United States is having a negative impact on our students. Creating this non-program is something that will take me some time to develop. I need to interview students, observe their reading habits, and keep at the forefront the ultimate goal of what a reading program is supposed to do. What is it supposed to do? A reading program is supposed to encourage an intrinsic desire to read, learn, relate, and to think critically. But, currently, this is not what is happening.
What I have witnessed is a disinterest and disengagement in reading unless there are extrinsic rewards for doing so. I’ve heard about students “working the system” by reading sparknotes and passing the quick quizzes in order to earn their rewards.
As of today, thus far, my proposal for the non-program reading program includes the following:
1) Allow children to choose any book that interests them; this is to include books that are above their “reading level.” Why? Because it’s ok for a student to challenge him/herself. If the vocabulary is too difficult, then the student can be taught how to try to figure out the meaning, and/or how to look it up in a dictionary. I fully believe that if the student is reading something that is interesting to him/her, they will figure out how to understand it. It’s human nature to learn about what interests us personally. Further, reading for one’s self is something that is supposed to be enjoyable. As such, reading is something that is personal, but can also be a sociable event. It’s personal because reading reaches into our souls, hearts, and minds. It’s sociable because we humans like to talk to each other about our interests and for the most part, we like hearing about the interests of others. Or, if it’s a shared interest, we like to compare thoughts, questions, and ideas.
a) Considering the personal aspect of reading, I feel it is critical that reading material other than books be available to students. I believe they should be able to read about their topic of interest using newspapers, magazines, websites, Twitter, etc. I do not believe they should be limited to books.
b) Considering the social aspect of reading, I think that students should be allowed to participate in reading clubs based on books or topics of their choosing. This can be grouping up to read magazines about motorcycles. Or, grouping up to read “Harry Potter.” Or, grouping up to research a popular singer/actress on the internet. Or, read what real people are saying about hot topics by following the hashtags on Twitter. All of these options (of course there are many others I have not mentioned) are all ways to which the students can read, learn, think critically, and then relate what they’ve learned to their own lives. The students should be able to have the class time to either read or to discuss what they’ve read.
2) There will be no extrinsic rewards for reading. Once rewards are given out, reading for the ultimate goal is diminished. Alfie Kohn says, “Scores of studies have confirmed that rewards tend to lead people to lose interest in whatever they had to do to snag them.” He continues, “every single study that has examined grades and intrinsic motivation has found that the former has a negative effect on the latter” (http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/nonreaders.htm).
a) When I asked the sixth grade students who said they didn’t like to read if they would read even if there were no points or rewards, one student said, “Yes, but I wouldn’t read books.” Another student said, “Yes, because [reading websites] would be more fun.”
b) When the same question was asked of the students who do like to read many of them answered that they would still read because they would be allowed to read anything they wanted including sources other than books. They also said that reading is fun. One student says she would read because it expands her vocabulary.
3) There will be no more testing of what the students read. Testing is a wonderful way to zap the fun out of anything. Let’s not do it anymore. Instead, allow the students to share what they read and learned. Allow them to share their investigations, questions, and thoughts with their fellow students. It is in allowing this that we will see the students thinking critically, exploring ideas, learning new things, and getting excited about it. But, they need to be able to share in whatever way works for them. They can sing a song, create a short film, build a website, make a poster, create a comic or cartoon, etc. The possibilities are endless!
The bottom line is that we need to make it enjoyable for students. We need to let them have the freedom to initiate their own exploration and learning. We need to give them agency and ownership of their own minds. We need to give them the power to be creative in the way that they are able to be. We need to stop trying to roboticize them. We need to stop trying to standardize something that is supposed to be exciting, dynamic, and interesting. Let’s allow these kids to express their individuality.
I encourage and welcome suggestions for adding to this non program reading program. Please feel free to comment. Thank you.