Good Readers Feel Good

Yesterday, I was at a friend’s house for a play date. My youngest two and his youngest two were playing happily.  Our oldest sons are both in the 2nd grade class. We both are recent transplants to the area and we are both married to doctors.

Our conversation drifted to reading and I discovered that his son is in the high reading group, while mine is in the middle group. I know I shouldn’t care, but I felt the hairs on my neck stand up. I heard myself being nutty explaining the reasons why he wasn’t in the top group.

1. We moved to town in October, so he hadn’t been tested.

2. His classroom teacher taught the middle group, so she thought it would be easier for him to stay with her, since he was new to the school.

3. He is young for the grade and so many parents hold their kids back.

But my friend was quick to dismiss my thinly veiled defense. He said he wasn’t sure how different the classes really were anyway. And as a teacher, I know that he is right. Maybe they read longer books or books with bigger words, but they aren’t composing sonnets or memorizing the Gettysburg Address.

Really public education just rides the middle road with slight variations to the shoulders on the left and right. With the focus on testing, those on the low end tend to get the most attention, though the attention they get often does more damage than good. The book Readicide: How Kids Are Killing Schools and What You Can Do About It by, Kelly Gallagher details this perfectly showing how the lowest-performing schools and students get the most test prep instruction, which then kills the chances of developing a love of reading.

For example, instead of drilling low performing students with dry leveled readers, inspire them by reading aloud to them from high-interest fiction, silly poetry, or informational texts about subjects the students actually show interest in learning about. Don’t fill their take home folders with worksheets and decodables, but rather run a book drive and fill their backpacks with books they want to look at and sleep with under their pillows (even if they can’t, “Gasp!” read all of the words).

Whether my son is in the high reading group or not really is not the predictor of his success. What predicts success comes from the relationship he develops with books at home and at school. Even though I carry a heavy burden of guilt for those nights I only have time to read to him and not listen to him read to me, I have laid the groundwork for a love of reading. So his reading aloud will improve simply, because he loves to read.

This is what his bed looks like. The books are sorted by genre. Some nights we have to help him empty some out of his bed, so that he can sleep!

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He loves to read to his sister.

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He loves to create his own books and his little brothers follow right behind the best way that they can.

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The most fundamental problem of test-driven learning is the lack of joy. Administrators are stressed. Teachers are stressed. Parents are stressed. So, students become stressed. And learning, which should be fun becomes work. If you start working at 5 and 6 years old, you won’t have much love of learning left when you hit high school.

So many times I want to skip doing spelling homework or reading aloud to be recorded for the reading log, because my kids are having fun making their own stories, playing imaginative games, or just plain tired from a long day. The repetitive assignments just don’t feel right most nights.

Think about your favorite elementary school memories. Most are driven by feelings that you had both good and bad. Kids don’t know about curriculum standards, lesson plans, objectives, skills, or assessments. They just know how they feel.

If today’s education reforms don’t make the kids feel good about learning, then what good can they be?