Reading in America

Almost all of the kids in the program in which I teach have one thing in common: a hatred of reading. If I have them read a couple of paragraphs (say, 200 words total), they immediately begin complaining about how long that is.

“Man, that’s too long!” is a common refrain in the classroom.

When I have them read something to me aloud, it becomes clear fairly quickly why they’re not fans of reading: they’re not very good at it. They stumble on very basic words, and don’t recognize words they themselves use every day. And like most activities, the only way to improve reading is to practice — to do it. But many of the kids in the program come from demographics — low education and low income — in which reading is not particularly popular, probably for the very same reason.

And so for them, the dilemma of the 21st century is intensified: how do we teachers, in a world of video games, YouTube, and music videos successfully encourage reading?

3 thoughts on “Reading in America

  1. I’m not sure there are any easy answers for you here, but it seems to me that getting material that’s interesting and engaging for some reason. It’s not just that reading is difficult work for those who haven’t practiced. It’s that reading assignments don’t generally offer much payoff.

    Reading is a tool, but it’s often characterized as an end in and of itself. “And now for some reading exercises.” “You should read more.” Why? That’s like someone saying “you should use a screwdriver more,” or “kids these days don’t know how to program.” Those don’t seem to be of any value until you need a screwdriver or a shell script — then, suddenly, you want to know.

    Reading has to be made relevant, and not just in the classroom.

  2. I think you’re right, and I believe the general curriculum requirements don’t help the situation much. Relevance in reading requires reader choice, and I think that’s where some teachers stumble. There’s a certain accepted canon (though considering some items on The List, “cannon” might be more appropriate) that many feel should be taught, and that canon does not make for relevant reading. “The Red Pony” might be a great story, but it doesn’t hold much for the urban kids I work with, for example.

    I have my own ideas that I’ll be sharing here as the school year develops, but I was just wondering what others thought.

    (And I knew I could count on you, Thud, to comment — as for the lurkers that I know are here…)

  3. You’re spot on about the curriculum. The more I studied literature in college, the more I became convinced that the “canon” was taught for the wrong reasons. Why do we teach “House of the Seven Gables” or “Moby Dick” to kids unprepared — historically or contextually — to understand the text? Because someone thinks it’s an Important Book That Should Be Read.

    Perhaps the question could be phrased: “how do we interest kids in reading *after* we’ve already convinced them that reading is dreadfully dull?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *