Sunday, March 2, 2008

Instilling a love of reading

My very fondest, clearest memories of reading as a child are housed within three books that I read with my mom: Little House in the Big Woods, The Diary of Anne Frank and Little Women. We’d sit together on the couch, taking turns reading to each other and it was just a wonderful experience diving into those books right alongside my own mother. I remember watching her cry at some moment in one of those books and being struck by how reading could move you to tears. I have no idea how old I was – probably somewhere in elementary school. (My dad read to me plenty too, by the way, but I think by the time I was getting into these chapter books it had become his role to read with my younger brother.)

Now as I think about how to cultivate a lifelong love of reading with Will and Owen I’m certain that I want to include those kind of extended shared reading sessions – long after they’ve graduated from picture books. As they head into grade school in a few years I’ll want to think more deliberately about how to keep reading something that each of them loves to do. (As a former English teacher, I know that many kids lose their zest for reading somewhere between toddlerhood and high school – whether their parents are readers or not.) So, for this article in today’s Ledger-Enquirer, I asked some local librarians and reading specialists for advice about how to foster a lifelong reading in children as they grow older. I also checked in with a national reading expert who warns that incentive reading programs, which are in widespread use in many elementary schools and middle schools today, may not be the best answer. (If your child is involved in Accelerated Reader or similar incentive-based reading programs, it's a reminder to keep the emphasis on reading for reading's sake, to discuss books rather than focusing on whether your child passes the test or gets points, and to avoid letting your child develop the attitude that if it's not an AR book that can earn him/her points, then it's not worth wasting time reading.) If you have an opinion about incentive reading programs and their value, please leave a comment below.

And, as you search for good books for your kids here are some resources:
Go to the American Library Association for lists of award-winning books. Click on Best Books for Young Adults, Caldecott Medal, Children’s Notables Lists, Newberry Medal, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and more…

Go to for help, including high-interest fiction book recommendations, inspiring reluctant male readers to start reading. The target age group here is 7th to 12 grade.

Go to this Reading is Fundamental web site for a “Top 25” list of books for infants through 9-year-olds. from lisa stephens best books infant to 9

Go to this Reading is Fundamental web site for a “Top 25” list of books for kids ages 10 and up.

And be sure to link to the Ledger article above for book recommendations for kids from pre-K through high school from Richards Middle School librarian Lisa Stephens and Columbus Public Library teen librarian Bridgin Boddy.

Below are Stephen Krashen’s comments on Accelerated Reader in full:

"Briefly:Accelerated Reader contains four components: lots of books, time to read, tests of what is read, and prizes for points earned on the tests. There is a great deal of research showing that providing access to books and time to read has a strong positive effect of literacydevelopment. What we don’t know is whether adding tests and prizes helps. Accelerated Reader doesn’t help us, unfortunately. In articles published in 2003 in the Journal of Children’s Literature and in 2005 in Knowledge Quest, I reviewed every study I could find on Accelerated Reader. I found that the studies compare doing Accelerated Reader to doing nothing. There has been no properly designed study comparing all four parts of Accelerated Reader to simply providing lots of books and time to read.

Here is an analogy: I have just developed a new drug called CALMDOWN, containing Zoloft and sugar. I have given it to a lot of people and they say they feel better. Can I claim I have found something new? There is another problem with programs such asAccelerated Reader: As Alfie

Kohn has pointed out, they give children a reward for doing something that is already intrinsically pleasant. This sends the message that reading must be unpleasant, that nobody would do it without being bribed. In the words ofStanford University psychologists Mark Lepper and David Greene, rewards can “turn play into work.” There have been no long-term studies of accelerated reader.

We have lots of evidence on encouraging reading: Most powerful is access to interesting and comprehensible books. Contrary to popular opinion, when children have access to good books, they read them. Children of poverty have very little access to books at home, at school (inferior classroom and school libraries) and in their communities (fewer bookstores, inferior public libraries). It’s no wonder they have lower reading scores. Also: Read-alouds (here is an interesting title of a paper that says it all: “Sixteen books went home tonight: Fifteen were introduced by the teacher,” by Danny Brassell, published in the California Reader in 2003). The champion of read-alouds is Jim Trelease, the author of the Read-Aloud Handbook, now in its sixth edition ( Contrary to popular opinion, when children haveaccess to good books, they read them. The money spent on Accelerated Reader should be spent on classroom libraries and school libraries."


vbacwarrior said...

I am currently in the middle of reading "Alice in Wonderland" to my 3 year old daughter, and then we'll move on to "Through the Looking Glass" and then "Little Women". Of course she doesn't understand all of what we're reading, but she enjoys it.

I remember in 5th grade, every day after lunch our teacher would read aloud to us. The highlight of the year was when she'd read "Charlotte's Web". She used a different voice for each character. I'm almost 27 now and that is still one of my fondest memories from years ago.

shannon said...

Manipulating kids into doing anything usually does no good in the end, as that expert points out. They have to experience the joy of it, first and decide on their own to read and that it's fun! That's why I think it's really a parenting role to introduce the love of reading to children when they are BORN.
I'm such an advocate of public schools but I also know that many courses of learning there are geared to kids who may not have had much parental influence. As long as I'm guiding my kids in the right direction, they can do the school programs in tandem with their own inspirations and aspirations not instead of.
My six year old is an avid reader. The books she brings home from AR are under her reading level and not challenging her. She enjoys them but she really enjoys going to the library and checking out things like, as of late, The Boxcar Children.
I hear the "point requirement" goes up each grade and it may be harder and harder to read what they want and what they may choose from AR, so this is the only part that worries me. . .
Thanks for all the good info and forewarning, Annie!

Annie Addington said...

Let's hope all our children will be lucky enough to have 5th and 6th grade teachers who continue to take time out for read-alouds. I have fond memories of my sixth grade teacher (who was also my all-time favorite teacher) reading aloud to us while we sat around her mesmerized.