How to help children rediscover the joy of reading
Recently, I was working with a precocious elementary student whose parents (and teachers) were having an impossibly difficult time getting him to read and to answer reading comprehension questions accurately. So after I tried—and failed— to elicit any positive response to his assigned reading for homework, I asked him why he had such a hard time reading and responding to such relatively simple passages. Without even pausing to think about my question, he shot back: “I hate reading.” A bit surprised, I asked: “Why do you hate reading?” Again, he responded swiftly and angrily: “Because it’s stupid.” Now being an academic coach, my first instinct was to explain to him why he was wrong and to encourage him to give the passage another try. But as I thought about his answer—“Because it’s stupid”—I realized that he was right. Reading was stupid—at least the readings that he was being assigned by his teachers. This brilliant young mind was being besieged and bored to death by inane stories with equally inane titles such as “Anna’s first barbecue” and “Rudy’s Rock Collection,” which had been quickly (or click-ly) gleaned from the latest internet reading comprehension worksheet program. These stories had no souls. There was nothing great or exciting about them. They existed simply for “teaching reading comprehension” as if the only purpose for reading was answering a series of multiple choice questions. Read this; answer that. Next! Rinse and repeat. These stories were as interesting—and as painful—as exploratory gum surgery. He had been read to death.
This, unfortunately, is the insidious outcome of decades of “reading comprehension for test preparation.” Schools have suffocated the natural instinct and desire that kids have for reading. Kids are curious: they’re born that way. Reading—and enjoying what they read—is a natural expression of their congenital curiosity. Only schools—filled with well meaning but test-pressured teachers—and homes—filled with frustrated, compliant parents—could turn reading from a delicious treat into dry, tasteless meat.
What are we to do? How can we help our kids to rediscover their joy for reading? It’s not that complicated: find out what they are curious about and then provide substantive, age-appropriate texts for them to explore and learn about what is already stimulating their minds. Then, do what we should have been doing all along: introduce them to the great stories. These are the exciting, richly written tales that teach morals and principles. They have existed for centuries and can be found in compendiums such as “The Book of Virtues.” There’s a reason why millions of parents have read and told these stories for over hundreds of generations: They are great, exciting, and enriching stories that are repositories for many of the values that we want our children to possess and pass on to their posterity. Beyond the riches that lie embedded in their exciting characters and plots, these stories also offer students substantive textual complexity that engages and expands their minds. Our kids become better—and smarter—while reading and retelling them. That’s right: retelling them. Storytelling is one of the best ways to get kids passionate about stories, and when we ask them to retell the story that we have read to them or that they have read to themselves, we are doing much more than simply fulfilling a testing standard. We are asking them to become storytellers, which is truly the world’s oldest art form. Storytelling excites and expands their imaginations. So parents should read stories to their children and ask their children to tell them a story about the stories that they have just heard or read. This request doesn’t have to come in contemporary test prep format: “Please write an extended response including details from each paragraph.” Ugh!!!! Just let them get excited once again. Let them discover heroes and heroines. Let them learn why responsibility is better than excuses. Let them learn why courage is better than cowardice. Let them enter faraway lands with exotic names and meet unforgettable characters who manage to create and solve some of life’s greatest problems. Let them read for enjoyment, and let them talk to you about what they have just read.
But all of this advice is too simple in our day of complex methodologies. After all, there is no real criteria to “ascertain” the effectiveness of joyful reading on reading comprehension. And, in our age of test-centric teaching, what cannot be quantified must be disqualified. But perhaps a non-compliant parent or teacher somewhere might decide to buck this nonsensical trend and let kids experience the joy and passion of great stories once again, for reading is so much more than trying to get a “4” on the ELA Common Core.
Should schools pay more attention to gifted students? Here's an excerpt from the NY TIMES article which argues that gifted students are being left behind.
"With money tight at all levels of government, schools have focused on the average and below-average students who make up the bulk of their enrollments, not on the smaller number of students at the top. It is vital that students in the middle get increased attention, but when the brightest students are not challenged academically, they lose steam and check out.
A pioneering study has followed a cohort of those extremely smart students for 25 years. It found that they have made outstanding contributions to advancing scientific and medical knowledge, earning tenured professorships, developing software, receiving patents, and serving in leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies and in technology, law and medicine."
What are your thoughts on this matter?
Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up http://nyti.ms/1frHhob
On October 19, 2016 thousands of brilliant high school juniors were unable to take one of the most important college-entry exams because the DOE refused to pay the $15.00 fee for their registrations as it had always done in the past. These students were left without recourse as their schools chose, therefore, NOT to order the exams for them. This has disproportionately affected minority, and low to middle-income students who were deprived of their right to compete on a state and national level for hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money. It also deprived them of the right to prepare for the SAT which they will be taking in May or June of 2017. This has never before happened in the history of this great city. I am writing this article in the hopes that someone might be able to intervene on their behalf so that this grievance could be redressed and these students be given the same opportunities as other students had across the state and country.
The PSAT is an extremely important test especially for juniors in high school. When juniors take this exam, they become eligible for national scholarships and other special opportunities that are made available for minorities and middle to low income students. The PSAT also is an integral part in preparing for the SAT. Students take the PSAT as sophomores and juniors, but the scholarships and other special opportunities are available only to juniors.
Imagine, then, the lost opportunities both at scholarships and direct preparation just months before the SAT if juniors are not able to take this test. And that is precisely what happened in October of 2016. The DOE, which had previously funded the $15.00 registration fee for this exam, decided that it was no longer going to pay for juniors to take this test. And so, this year, across the city, thousands of bright students were prohibited from taking this enormously important test. I have spoken to representatives from several of the largest high schools in the city, and they all have told me the same story: “Our school could not afford to fund the test from our own resources, so our students could not take it.”
The question begs: "Well, why couldn't the parents pay for the test themselves as other parents do across the state and country?" The answer is simple: even parents who wanted to pay for the test could not do so because the schools have an all or nothing policy. Schools have to close for the day so that a secure testing zone can be established within the school for any major exam. Principals who could not pay for the exam simply chose not to order it for any of their students because they would not close the entire school just for a few students who wanted to opt in. So the DOE's assertion that students had the option of paying for the test is at best disingenuous and at worst a bald-faced lie. Since there was no place to take the test, it did not matter if they wanted to pay for the test.
So here in NYC, thousands of our brightest could not take the test that could offer them the best. This should not stand. If you are interested in helping me to redress this grievance, please show your concern by "liking" or "sharing" this article with others. I ask anyone who loves children and who believes in their potential to help me in this endeavor.