British want kids to read 50 books a year

British students should read 50 books a year, says Education Secretary Michael Gove, after touring a KIPP charter in Harlem with a book-a-week goal.

In talking to students preparing for school exams, “something like 80 or 90 per cent were just reading one or two novels and overwhelmingly it was the case that it included Of Mice and Men.”

“We should be saying that our children should be reading 50 books a year, not just one or two for GCSE.”

I wonder why Of Mice and Men is ubiquitous in Britain. Well, it’s short.

For adults, The Telegraph suggests 50 books you must not read before you die.

In sixth grade, we filled out an index card for every book we read independently.  The minimum was one book a month. I read 183 books during the school year.  The teacher saved my stack of index cards to terrify future students.

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Comments

  1. Mark Roulo says:

    St. John’s College (liberal arts school in Annapolis and Santa Fe, not the school known for basketball in New York) has an excellent great books curriculum, where the education is largely centered around reading, discussing and writing about great books of western civilization.

    The freshman year load is 43 books and some essays … but the books include some fairly short ones (e.g. The Frogs, by Aristophanes).

    I get that these books are probably longer and harder than the ones that Michael Gove is envisioning, but the K-12 kids are also younger and less motivated than the self selected students at St. John’s.

    Does he really think that the kids will read (as opposed to skim … or looking up a summary on-line or via Cliff’s Notes) one book a week? Assuming that the books are as long as Harry Potter and/or The Wind in the Willows? I’d love to see it happen, but I just don’t see *how* it actually can/will happen …

  2. Yeah, way to impart that love of reading. Read 50 books, or read 200 pages, or read for 20 minutes each night. I’m so stinkin’ tired of these odd guidelines. How many of us actually give children a bit of non-busy, non-hurried time to pursue reading about a topic or exploring a book they enjoyed?? It’s all about the lists and the charts. No wonder we don’t raise readers!!

  3. wahoofive says:

    50 books you must “not” read before you die?

  4. That is a book a week. Quite a heavy load for a school year, but easily done in a calendar year.

  5. a book a week really isn’t too much to ask of kids, if we limit their screen time. Why shouldn’t they read an hour a night? What else are they doing? When I was young (I was a fast reader) a typical kids/YA novel took me about 2 hours. I easilt plowed through 10-16 books a week (of course, I was known to skimp on projects and homework to spend more time reading! :) )

    Basically, if we want kids to be FLUENT readers by adulthood, a book a week is probably not enough!. If we follow the 10,000 words makes an expert rule, we want kids to read for closer to 2 hours a night for their k-12 lives. Not just during the school year—all year long.

    Now, given that the average US kid supposedly spends 4 hours a day watching TV, this shouldn’t be too much to ask.

    It’s a culture problem. Even at 1 book a week, these kids will never be great readers. They need to start hitting the 3-5 books a week mark, at least.

  6. I think all points are fair. Obviously the length of the book is a huge factor, as is the fact that the average school year is only 40 weeks, making the average 1.25 books per week. I agree that reading should be encouraged, but so should athletics, and music, and the arts, not to mention math, history, languages, sciences etc. I think the idea of mandating the amount of time spent, or quantity of pages read, is what kills the love of reading for many people not just children. I am an avid reader, but after a heavy university curriculum where I “had” to read so many texts and books, I spent the following year not even reading for pleasure… Reading should be a joy, and encouraged, and I think this quote that children “should” read 50 books per year, is meant to be taken as a guideline, and not a mandate.

  7. Mark Roulo says:

    Deirdre,

    You aren’t asking the kids to read if they *must* do so. You are forcing them. As a parent you can do this, but how do the schools do this? Assign it as homework? Which won’t get done?

    It is, as you mention at the end, a culture problem. But adding a new, non-enforceable requirement isn’t going to change the culture.

  8. A charter school might be able to have an extended day with reading (instead of TV) time after school. But you’re right, in the end, for most kids, it comes down to the parents.

    I teach second grade CCD right now. About half the kids in the class have flat screen TVs, blueray players, video game systems and laptops IN THEIR BEDROOMS. It’s clear where the family’s priorities are…. but I don’t think parents realize that by giving their kids unlimited gadgetry, they’re actually damaging academic performance and condemning them to the underclass.

  9. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    This reminds me of a conversation we’ve had before…. it wasn’t the point of the post but it came up in the comments:

    http://www.joannejacobs.com/2009/12/holding-the-gate-against-ideas/

  10. Why make kids read? There’s no evidence that reading makes kids better readers. Vocabulary and content knowledge makes kids better readers, and if they aren’t going to get content knowledge from reading Aristophanes.

  11. Mark Roulo says:

    If we follow the 10,000 hours makes an expert rule…

    Actually, the rule is more that the experts tend to have put in 10,000 hours. But that doesn’t mean that 10,000 hours makes you an expert. It is more that if you *DON’T* put in 10,000 hours, you shouldn’t expect to be an expert (note that the rule of thumb doesn’t define expert …)

  12. palisadesk says:

    Only 50 books? Those Limeys are wimps. Get with Pennsylvania schools and the 100 Book Challenge!

    http://www.americanreading.com/products/100bc/

    I think it has spread to other states as well.

    Where children’s books are concerned, 50 or 100 is no big deal, most are quite short. By the middle grades they are longer ,but few kids are reading Treasure Island or <Gone With the Wind any more.

  13. Stacy in NJ says:

    Ughhh. I homeschool and assign reading to my boys daily. Typically they read for an accumulated 2-3 hours per day. This includes both fiction and non-fiction. I would never assign a certain number of books. As a kid I easily read 100 books per year – 100 crap books. Quality matters. Kids need to be read to, guided in their choice of material, and engage with the material they read (reflect on it). That is what education is. Reading 50 or 100 or 200 books just to git ‘er done is stupid and random.

    My boys also read comic books, manga, and fun series like Percy Jackson. They do that on their own time, though.

  14. I like this goal. Give or take depending on the length of the book. Younger kids could read (or be read to) most days really. Short texts, lots of pics.

    When you get into the chapter books even a book every 2 weeks would be great.

    I like this goal and will consider implementing it into our routine.

    Thanks!

  15. First time posting.

    I think everyone on this thread is crazy. I am an avid reader and have been for 35 years (since early elementary) but I could never read 50 books in a year. I read at the same speed that I talk, which means it takes close to 2 minutes to read a page in a paperback novel. I love longer novels (600+ pages) so you can do the math. This rate of reading gives me time to enter the world of the novel and become fully enveloped in it.

    If I had to read a book a week I would be forced to skim the books and I would hate reading.

  16. Wonderful topic and stimulating discussion. I strongly recommend Donalyn Miller’s remarkable work, The Book Whisperer. This is one of those truly transformational books. I teach seventh-grade language arts, and I employ a reading program, similar to Miller’s.

    I give my students time in class daily to read. I allow them to choose virtually anything they’re interested in reading, only coaching them on reading level. I never assign homework, choosing rather to encourage, not demand, outside-of-class reading.

    While the average student in my school reads somewhere between one and three books throughout the year, mine will read 20-40, depending on the student. Many who entered the year as non-readers now read, saying “I used to hate reading.”

    I’ve had parents tell me they come home from work to find their children reading for pleasure — something that never happened prior to this year.

    Give them choice and time to read and reflect on reading and to discuss it with peers, and kids will read. Of course, this means spending less time teaching to standardized tests and assigning meaningless homework.

  17. Hmm…. I’m an adult and have no problem reading a book or two a week (and reading a novel a week outloud to the kiddos.) But my husband and I don’t watch TV.

  18. The January of my 5th grade year (and what year that was is none of your business, but it was before cable or internet or anything) I injured my knee badly enough that I couldn’t manage going to school. Crutches, steps….just not happening.

    My mother was a stay-at-home mom so it didn’t put a dent in the family lifestyle.

    All there was to do was read. I was propped up on a couch with a fortress of reading material — everything from the Encyclopedia Brittanica (we had a set) to Lang’s Fairy Stories to my father’s children’s books (Tom Swift, the complete run of the Oz stories) and some English children’s books from a neighbor.

    In retrospect, that week of nothing to do but read changed my life. Did I understand everything in the EB? No, but I learned about struggling to understand written material and to save up questions for adults. I think I sort of absorbed by immersion the difference between fiction and non-fiction, and the particular tone of authoritative texts (back then, the EB).

    In my view, the various lists (like this one) http://www.collegeboard.com/parents/plan/hs-steps/21276.html are WAY too heavily weighted towards fiction, poetry and personal narrative/biography Where are the books on science, natural history… or even history?

  19. Oh, god. Must everyone else suffer through these little life stories? Are you all so self-absorbed that you think your own fatuous love for the written word only requires forced exposure to books to ignite a two way passion?

    Focus hard, anecdatrons: correlation is not causation. You liked reading. Good for you! It had diddly to do with exposure and everything to do with a mixture of preference and IQ.

  20. tim-10-ber says:

    I have no problem with a decent reading recommendation for kids but my younger one loved to read in third grade. In fact his third grade class had a contest with prizes awarded. The better you did the more “credits” you received to “spend” at the “store”. It was up to the student to do well. Well, he did very well.

    However, the dumb school system got the “bright” idea to require the kids to read a certain amount each six weeks for a grade. That was it…reading became a chore for him and has been ever since. My older son who did not have reading forced on him loves to read.

    I think the requirement to read 50 books a year is a stupid idea…with all the reading kids have to do for class plus just one extra-curricular activity….I vote no…

  21. In addition to the Miller book menioned by Mark, there’s another called Readicide that addresses the same line of thought. Brits aren’t being original here — there are teachers and schools right here in the U.S. implementing this sort of program. Yes, it would be lovely if we could get all children to replace just one hour of TV with one hour of reading — what a world that would be. I’m not sure we’re going back to it, if it ever existed. In any case, it’s no guarantee of anything — I have below grade-level students who love to read. I have things I love to do that I’m crappy at, too.

  22. A requirement like this discourages rereading. Children will think they can’t afford to read a favorite book two, three, or four times–they have to go on to the next. This means that they may be limited to first impressions and won’t have the experience of relishing favorite passages. Someone who reads and reread 15 books, to the point of knowing many passages by heart, might learn more than the kids scrambling for their 50.

  23. I find myself thinking of something I read in a magazine once – it may have been one of those anecdotal stories, I don’t know – but some years back an adult (I can’t remember if it was a librarian or someone who sold inexpensive paperbacks in his shop) got kids to read “Treasure Island” and other books like that by pretending that the kids’ parents would be angry and offended with him if they found out their child was reading such a book.

    Of course, books like Treasure Island flew off the shelves.

    Kids are probably more sophisticated than that today, but I do think there’s a truth in that: make something compulsory, and people hate it. Make it optional and some people will go for it. Make it “taboo” and people who might even have avoided it will be intrigued.

    Maybe we need to make television viewing compulsory for kids, and make books seem like forbidden fruit…

  24. It certainly is important to get children to the point where they read as fluently as possible. After that, piling on reading requirements is bossy and manipulative. Some children would rather spend their time on pursuits that are, to them, equally if not more important. And from which they may learn a lot. The time that various nieces and nephews have spent training dogs, doing music, babysitting, being a gofer for a carpenter, etc, were learning experiences too.

  25. It’s true that after a certain point, more reading probably won’t make these kids better readers. But the kids I see aren’t anywhere NEAR that point yet. And a requirement might actually MAKE the parents turn off the TV for a while.

    Also, it’s not like most of these kids are watching the Discovery channel or the history channel and actually picking up knowledge and vocab from their screen time. They’re watching Hannah Montana and Justin Bieber videos. Is it really too much to expect these second/third/fourth graders to read ONE age appropriate book a week outside of school? We’re not even talking an hour a day at this point.

    Reading can’t be useful or enjoyable until you build up a certain fluency. Most homework is busy work anyway. If we replaced the busy work with book reports, (on nonfiction as well as fiction!) we’d have a better system.

  26. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Cal Saith:


    It had diddly to do with exposure and everything to do with a mixture of preference and IQ.

    This is a remarkably silly overstatement. Of course it has to do with exposure. Where do you think preference comes from? Why didn’t all those kids in 1970 want to play with their Nintendo Wii’s? They hadn’t been exposed to them. Why don’t all American kids want desperately to watch the latest French cartoons? Because they haven’t been exposed to them.

    And while I’m meta-commenting, Diana’s point about quality of reading vs. quantity of material read is an extremely good one. Of course, the best situation is the student who reads 50 books over and over again, but now we’re simply playing make-believe…

  27. Cranberry says:

    Liz Ditz, the College Board lists “Poetry and Cultural and Historical Texts” on a separate list: http://www.collegeboard.com/parents/plan/hs-steps/21281.html.

    Cal is on the same page as the authors of Freakonomics. Here’s a blog which summarizes the argument: http://voxbaby.blogspot.com/2005/05/books-and-freakonomics.html.

  28. But isn’t some amount of reading necessary if we want kids to attain some sort of minimum fluency? Not “Ace the College Boards” necessarily, but just “Able to read a local newspaper, a memo at work, or a governent documentary?” What’s wrong with making kids read a certain number of slightly challenging books a week until they achieve, say, a 5th grade reading level? (Enough to read the magazines in the doctor’s office easily, and to hopefully puzzle through the drug information that comes with their prescription for antibiotics?)

    True, that means that for some of our kids, the forced reading would end pretty swiftly. But other kids may take more years of reading to reach a 5th grade level.

    Number of books is probably not the best measure, since if your darling is reading Victor Hugo and Bob next door is on Dr. Seuss, Bob should read more books in a week, no matter what their reading levels, but still….. maybe a ‘Words per week’ metric instead? One that’s prorated to reading level?

    I’m less interested in making sure that kids LOVE reading (that can’t be forced) then making sure that we educate children so they can say—read a product’s manual.

    And for that, forced reading is an excellent tool….

  29. Where do you think preference comes from

    You don’t learn to read by osmosis. We are talking about kids who know how–or are being taught how–to read. (I guess I was assuming you understood that. My bad.)

    Kids who find this a desirable activity will read more without any encouragement at all. This has been well documented in the literature and I’m quite sure you can find millions of anecdata on this point as well, if you value that.

    Far too many people learn that good reading skills and a tremendous vocabulary go hand in hand with high levels of reading activity and de decide the causality goes in the wrong direction.

    Here’s a research project that’s been done more than a few times.

    Group A: PhD vocabulary level, 0-1 hours leisure reading per month. (Yes, such people exist.)

    Group B: 6th grade vocabulary level, 6-8 hours leisure reading per week. (Ditto).

    Give both groups a reading comprehension test. Who wins?

    Hint: It’s not even close.

    Figure that out, and it should tell you all you need to know about the importance of reading, the importance of vocabulary, and the criticality of time spent reading to reading comprehension and vocabulary development.

  30. Cal,

    Isn’t reading a lot one of the best ways to develop vocabulary and reading comprehension skills?

    Are we to assume that the people with the Ph.d level vocabulary developed it from primarily oral interactions?

    I’m not arguing in favor of the 50 book requirement, but the idea that one can become a strong reader without practicing reading seems kind of surprising, especially for people in the average range of intelligence.

  31. Also, the study you reference compares the groups based on LEISURE reading. A lot of lawyers, for instance, have very little time for leisure reading but still read massive amounts of dense prose every day. In fact…. it’s almost like they’re FORCED to read…….hmmm…. ;)

    Who said the ’50 books’ was LEISURE reading? “Outside of school” is not the same as “leisure”…. Or all those physics and calc problem sets I did in HS should count as leisure!

  32. Isn’t reading a lot one of the best ways to develop vocabulary and reading comprehension skills?

    No evidence says so. Hence cause vs. correlation.

    And um, no, Deirdre. There’s been lots of studies on this, not just one (as I mentioned). Many of the people in Group A did not read a lot on their job.

  33. And if you don’t like hearing it just from me, I offer The National Reading Panel:

    Reading practice is generally believed to improve fluency, and two instructional approaches are usually used to practice reading: guided repeated oral reading and independent silent reading. The Panel determined that guided repeated oral reading has a significant and positive impact on word recognition, reading fluency, and comprehension for students of all ages. However, the Panel was unable to conclude that independent silent reading, as the only type of reading instruction, improves reading fluency. More research is needed to understand the specific influences that independent silent reading practices have on reading fluency.

  34. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Cal Saith (in her cranky-as-of-late way):

    You don’t learn to read by osmosis. We are talking about kids who know how–or are being taught how–to read. (I guess I was assuming you understood that. My bad.)

    OK, let’s grant you that. So what? That doesn’t necessarily imply the presence of books. One can learn to read without books, without literature. There have been large periods of human history where there were no books, and many cultures where there really was nothing in the way of literature.

    So sure: we can be talking about kids who learn how to read. But we weren’t just talking about kids who were learning to read. We were talking about kids who come to LOVE reading books. You said that exposure to books had NOTHING to do with that. (The exact phrase you used was “diddly”.)

    But surely exposure matters! You admit it yourself when you talk about kids “finding this a desirable activity.”

    What do you think is required before finding something a desirable activity? Being exposed to it, of course.

    Now, you can say that the exposure is only a threshold requirement, and that it’s not the primary causal force. That’s fine. But you don’t get to sit there screaming “Oh my God how can you be so dumb” and then say something patently false like “your love of reading had diddly to do with exposure.”

    That’s just silly. Surely it has something to do with exposure. Why overstate your case?

    And if you’re going to go to the trouble of being demeaning in your comments…

    “Oh, god. Must everyone else suffer through these little life stories? Are you all so self-absorbed that you think your own fatuous love for the written word only requires forced exposure to books to ignite a two way passion? “

    … then you should be at least as careful with what you say as you want other people to be about what they say.

    And I’m not even going to START on what you think the subject of your last quoted sentence there is and how it makes your (mis)characterization of your opponents’ assertions sound eminently reasonable.

  35. palisadesk says:

    Well, I’d love to know where those Ph.D’s with the outstanding vocabularies learned all the words that gave them the edge on reading comporehension (I have no doubt the data point is accurate).

    From chit-chat and TV?

    Most of the vocabulary that distinguishes those with outstanding reading comprehension from those without it is found almost exclusively in written form. Even the conversation of Ph.D’s has less complexity of vocabulary than children’s books (I have the cites on this, but you can probabvly find them yourself).

    Many words in *my* repertoire are ones that I have never once heard spoken in conversation (chthonic, batrachian, velleity… great word BTW). Yes, I meet plenty of those highly educated people who “never read.” Never read for pleasure, OK. But guess where they learned all that “vocabulary?”

    Yes, by reading.

    Perhaps at gunpoint. I have yet to see any credible evidence that large numbers of those with “outstanding reading comprehension” and 99th percentile vocabularies attained these repertoires without extensive reading, forced or not.

    While we are on data points: another interesting one is that children who fail to learn to read in the elementary years often show a steady drop in IQ from early childhood through adolescence in the area of verbal intelligence. So a child who tests as superior or gifted at age 6 may gradually drop until s/he tests at average then low average (below 100) by secondary school age.

  36. Palisadesk; I love velleity – let’s relate it to the acquisition (or not) of an education; all talk, no action.

  37. Oddly enough, I heard Chthonic spoken before I read it…… But it was in the context of a lecture on Greek temples, so….. ;)

    Also, Cal, I hadn’t realized that we were talking about using SSR instead of other reading instruction! I assumed it was IN ADDITION to what was going on at school— hence the AT HOME issue that everyone keeps griping about.

    I’d also like to point out one other benefit from forcing kids to read books, as opposed to textbook snippets, magazine articles, etc.

    Reading entire books teaches the habit of sustained attention and concentration –one that (again, based on the kids I see in CCD) many kids today are not learning. I come from an ADHD family, so I’m… a tad familiar… with what inherited ADHD looks like. One of the problems I see in the kids I meet is that they have LEARNED ADHD…. they’ve never had to concentrate on ANYTHING for more than about 2 minutes. Reading isn’t only the way to give this habit of attentiveness— being read to works, pulling weeds in a large garden plot works, tai chi or yoga or regular attendence at adult religious services works.

    However, assigning books to read (I’d prefer 50 assigned books with reports to 50 free-chosen books, for the purposes of this assignment– it’s homework, and we might as well admit it.) anyway, assigning books to read is one of the few tools a SCHOOL can use to encourage sustained attention. And do we really want a nation of kids who never learned to focus?

  38. As for Cal’s recent crankiness, isn’t s/he a fairly new teacher? The “disillusioned and hating all the students because their a waste of time” phase is a very important milestone in a new teachers life! It usually ends with either acceptance (I can’t fix everything, but I’ll do the little bit I can and hope it has results I can’t see down the road) or quitting (I only like teaching smart kids who like school or remedial kids who WANT to learn what they’re missing, any school job will make me teach these lazy idiots whose parents don’t care, so I should leave the teaching industry and instead volunteer at church, work as a private tutor to kids I select, homeschool my own kids, and then waste time commenting on edublogs when I should be doing something actually USEFUL.)

    Personally, I chose the latter route…. but perhaps Cal will work through this early career anger and choose the road less taken…….

  39. I am always intolerant of imbecilic commenters, I’ve been teaching underprivileged kids for over 7 years, I love teaching, and your attempts at psychoanalysis are every bit as weak as your other offerings in this blog.

    Also, Cal, I hadn’t realized that we were talking about using SSR instead of other reading instruction! I assumed it was IN ADDITION to what was going on at school— hence the AT HOME issue that everyone keeps griping about.

    So was I. There’s no evidence that ssr improves fluency. We do no other reading instruction after, say, 6th grade (and that’s generous). Requiring students to read 50 books a year is merely adding on SSR to existing SSR and, as the panel says, there’s no evidence that it improves fluency.

    Well, I’d love to know where those Ph.D’s with the outstanding vocabularies learned all the words that gave them the edge on reading comporehension (I have no doubt the data point is accurate).

    I didn’t say they were phDs, just used it as a shorthand for a superb vocabulary, since the primary determinant of vocabulary range is not time spent leisure reading, but level of education. And of course, they read books as part of their education–not just literature, but history and science.

    In most cases, people who read a lot do so because they find it an extremely effective way of getting information (either for fun or purpose, doesn’t matter). That’s because most people who read extensively also have an excellent vocabulary and strong content knowledge.

    The issue at hand is whether they got that vocabulary through extensive reading, or if they read a lot because their extensive vocabulary and strong content knowledge make it a productive activity.

    The purpose of the research is to determine causation by finding outliers. The research of outliers demonstrates that lots of reading does not, in and of itself, lead to extensive vocabulary and content knowledge and that lots of reading is not, in and of itself, required for extensive vocabulary and content knowledge.

  40. Cranberry says:

    Could we back up a bit? What evidence does anyone have that it’s possible to force kids to read books outside of school?

    We could build castles in the air about how transformative a forced reading regimen would be for American schoolchildren. It’s also fun to bash each other about our supposed personal background, although that should be out of bounds for educated adults. A greater problem remains. As far as I can judge from published research and teacher blogs, a significant percentage of students don’t do their homework. Shocker, I know. They don’t do it, no matter how easy said homework might be.

    How would the forced reading list people ascertain that the students had read the approved works? Shall language arts instruction be divided between test prep and quizzes on assigned reading? Cliff Notes and Spark Notes still exist. Forced reading plans will boost their sales, but I’m not convinced it will do anything useful.

    Further, what evidence does anyone have that it’s possible to force parents to force kids to read books outside of school?

  41. Cal — I’m sorry– I must have had you comfused with another California commenter–the one who was almost kicked out of ed school for challenging the professors a year or two back?

    It seems like you’re saying that reading does not build vocabulary and background knowledge. So would you then reccomend that, to increase literacy, teachers focus more on documentaries?

  42. J.D. Salinger says:

    I went to school in Detroit in the 60′s and in 10th grade took an experimental English class called Detroit Experimental English Program. One feature of the program (in addition to a programmed learning text of grammar) was that we spent two days of the week in a library/room dedicated to the class, and we could read any books we wanted from there. We weren’t limited to the library; we could read books we had at home/elsewhere. Nor were we limited to the type of book; we could read science fiction if we wanted. We had to report back on the books we read in an informal discussion held in class. We still had the required reading: Silas Marner, and Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar. I liked the class quite a bit, and am wondering whatever became of the “experiment”.

  43. No, that’s me, Deirdre. But I’ve been teaching for much longer than the two years I’ve been a public school teacher, and public school held no surprises for me.

    Best if you just realize that people who post with less than perfect deference to your feelings just think you’re a bit silly, rather than assume they are unhappy at their job.

    It seems like you’re saying that reading does not build vocabulary and background knowledge.

    I’m saying that there’s no evidence that reading builds vocabulary and background knowledge, which is what the reading panel is saying as well. What does appear to be true is that some people are able to build vocabulary and background knowledge through reading. This has led a number of people to wrongly assume that reading a lot gave people this ability, when there’s no evidence that this is true.

    Cranberry–it just gives everyone something to maunder about. Talk about making kids read more and all the readers instantly start talking about how many books they read when they were a child, and everyone feels good and thinks they’re doing something to improve education in America, and then it will stop until someone brings it up again.

  44. So if reading doesn’t build background knowledge in most kids, what does? Documentary watching? Maybe, but only for the kids who choose to pay attention. Lectures? Once again, you need attentive kids and good, knowledgable teachers.

    Dioramas, Posters, crossword puzzles and word finds? …right….

    So, if we replaced the busy-work homework most kids aren’t doing with educational videos (ala the ‘flipping’ method) and required reading and reports that most kids will ignore, don’t we at least help the small percentage of kids who DO do their homework?

    I’m not sure what the downside to requiring more reading and writing is. At worst, the kids (who are already not doing their homework) won’t do their homework. And does it really hurt to replace 3 weeks of “Build a model of a pyramid from toothpicks” with reading three books about ancient egypt and writing reports on them?

    I mean, if you’re going to argue that a certain portion of the population flat out refuses to learn, well, what, (short of a return to corporal punishment—which was the main motivator for schoolboys for thousands of years) is going to MAKE them learn? At least the indeterminate subset of kids who CAN build vocab and background knowledge by reading will be better off.

  45. Cranberry says:

    Deirdre Mundy, are you proposing to require students to read a set list of books outside of class, on their own time? Are you proposing to require English curricula to be restructured around a set canon of books? Or are you proposing to reorient English instruction away from arts and crafts, back to practicing reading and writing?

    In my daughter’s time in public school, she never had to write a book report. I would have gladly traded dioramas and Writers’ Workshop for an old fashioned book report.

    I do believe in the Matthew effect. The current trend to heterogeneous classes does not help. My children are voracious readers. By third grade, they were reading widely and frequently. I think adults can raise the bar too quickly. It’s better, IMHO, to encourage a child to try more demanding books than to require them to read books they find uninteresting.

    Set reading lists tend to be ambitious and to cater to what looks good on paper rather than what might be interesting to teach, or what is even possible to teach in a heterogeneous class. How does a teacher teach The Mill on the Floss to a class of students who are reading at a 3rd grade level?

  46. Deirdre, I am not arguing that students refuse to learn, and if documentaries are the only alternative to sustained silent reading you can envision, then among other things, you didn’t understand the link I provided.

  47. Cranberry– I wasn’t envisioning a nation-wide required reading list. Something more like reading-level appropriate required reading (1 book a week) that was tied into the curriculum. Maybe some freedom– a kid could choose any book from a short list of reading level appropriate books as long as they read both nonfiction and fiction each week. And then a book report at the end.

    So, if Little Bobby’s Fifth grade class was studying the American Revolution, some kid might read Johnny Tremain or My Brother Sam is Dead, some might read “You Wouldn’t Want to Be at the Boston Tea Party”, Some might read a good biography of Paul Revere or George Washington or Traitor by Jean Fritz. For the kids reading below grade level, there would be easier books available, and for the better readers you could have challenging books.

    And then a report at the end.

    You could also have similiar reading/writing projects where the lists were all non-fiction and tied into science class.

    I know that back in the day we had weekly books and book reports in elementary school, so it’s not like this is impossible to pull off, even in a heterogeneous classroom (which we also, since in a few of the ES I went to they’d already eliminated reading and math groups, but hadn’t yet eliminated reading and writing requirements……)

  48. Cal – your link is to a Q&A page withiout any links to the original research. The passage you quoted said that SSR ALONE without any other forms of instruction did not improve reading. Who here was talking about getting rid of phonics, read aloud, science, history, etc. and ONLY having SSR?

    Also, SSR is NOT the same thing as reading a book and then having to talk about it and write reports on it.

    Did you post another link that I missed? Because it’s true– I don’t see how “SSR doesn’t work in a vaccuum” is the same as saying “It’s a waste to have students read books at home!”

  49. Cranberry says:

    Deirdre, in Little Bobby’s fifth grade class, even if the children were permitted to complete individual books, the next step in a modern classroom would be…individual class presentations on their reading! Subtract at least several days from the time available for instruction, as the class politely listens to presentations.

    Public speaking is a useful skill. Devoting class time to presentations decreases the time available to learn new things.

    I think that if you’re a literate person, you can acquire new vocabulary from reading. If you are not a fluent reader, however, the process is much slower. The stage in which a person prepares to read is based on speech, not reading. I think the good readers of today received lots of verbal stimulation in infancy. I do not think videos can substitute for human conversation.

    The old-fashioned “bluebirds and robins” model of reading groups is taboo now, isn’t it? And yet, it makes intuitive sense to match classroom reading to a reader’s reading level, not his grade level. Discussion of a text one has 1) read, and 2) understood has to be more productive than discussion of a text one 1) hasn’t read, and 2) doesn’t understand.

    Slow readers may make more progress in heterogeneous groups because more of the class will have done the reading. Even if the slowest readers couldn’t read the book, they can participate in the discussion. Thus, an advance which seems to be based on reading could, for some participants, be based on listening.