I’ve been tutoring a first-grade boy in reading this year. At first, he read very slowly and laboriously with much complaining. The book was always “boring.” Suddenly, he learned how to sound out words, but it was still a chore to get him to read. Then, last month, his reading speed accelerated.
“I can read chapter books,” he told me yesterday. I asked him what he likes to read at home. He said he likes the Magic Treehouse books, passed down from his older sister. (These appear to be written at the second-grade level.) “I like books with mystery and adventure!” he said. He also likes to read funny books. He likes to read.
British Education Minister Michael Gove explains in The Telegraph why he wants to challenge (not require) children to read 50 books a year.
I want to take on the lowest-common-denominator ethos, the “let’s not be too demanding”, “all this smacks of targets”, “the poor dears can’t manage it”, “the idea of a canon is outmoded”, “it’s all on the internet anyway” culture which is anti-knowledge, anti-aspiration and antithetical to human flourishing.
In 2009, 63 percent of white, working-class children “couldn’t read and write properly,” Gove writes.
To pass the state English Literature exam, students study four or five texts, including one novel.
In exams more than 90 per cent of the answers on novels are on the same three works: Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird. Indeed, out of more than 300,000 students who took one exam board’s paper last year, just 1,700 studied a novel from before the 20th century:
Gove is excited by Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), aka sustained silent reading. As Cal has written in the comments, the research shows that students don’t read any better in schools with a silent reading period than they do in schools without time for students to read a book of their choice. Perhaps the loss of instructional time cancels the gains.
I think teachers should ask parents to require children to read the book of their choice for 30 to 60 minutes before spending 30 to 60 minutes watching TV or interacting with a computer screen.