Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summer Reading: Bring back the pleasure

Sent to the Wall Street Journal, June 25

Summer Reading for Parents (June 25) shows how the common core is pushing publishers and parents in the wrong direction. None of these fads, all featured in the WSJ article, is supported by research, experience, or common sense: reward stickers,  restricting children to reading at “their level," and a de-emphasis of fiction.
Rewarding reading can send the message that reading is so unpleasant that bribes are necessary. The rewards also focus children more on what they need to remember to do to get prizes than the pleasure of reading. 
Restricting children to reading at a certain level makes the incorrect assumption that readers must know nearly every word to understand and enjoy texts. John Holt tells this story:
"… One day, in one of our many free periods, (one of my students) was reading at her desk. From a glimpse of the illustrations I thought I knew what the book was. I said to myself, "It can't be," and went to take a closer look. Sure enough, she was reading Moby Dick. When I came close to her desk she looked up. I said, " Are you really reading that?" She said she was!  I said, "Do you like it?" She said, "Oh, yes, it's neat!" I said, "Don't you find parts of it rather heavy going?" She answered, "Oh, sure, but I just skip over those parts and go on to the next good part."
Holt continues: "This is exactly what reading should be and in school so seldom is- an exciting, joyous adventure. Find something, dive into it, take the good parts, skip the bad parts, get what you can out of it, go on to something else. How different is our mean-spirited, picky insistence that every child get every last little scrap of understanding that can be dug out of a book."
Nonfiction and other kinds of "light reading" form the bridge between "conversational" and "academic" language: nearly all those who have mastered academic language have read a great deal of lighter material that they found to be highly interesting, and that did not involve any struggle, only intensive interest. All this fiction and light reading did not result in full academic competence, but provided them with the linguistic competence and knowledge that helped make more demanding texts comprehensible.
Children's book publishers should continue their excellent job of providing wonderful children's literature, concentrating on great stories and fascinating nonfiction texts that excite children and motivate them to read more.

Stephen Krashen


Kohn, A.  (1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin (second edition)
Krashen, S. (2003). The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of accelerated reader. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29 (2): 9,16-30.
Leveled books:
Holt, J. 1967. How teachers make children hate reading,
Value of fiction:
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Heinemann Publishing Company and Libraries Unlimited.
The common core:
Krashen, S. 2013. Access to books and time to read versus the common core standards and tests.  English Journal 103(2): 21-39.

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