I have not hidden the fact that my oldest daughter has been a developing reader for the past 2 years. That something that came so easy for me, has been a fight for her, where the words stammered and stuttered and her frustration grew. But. We just received word from her teacher that she is at grade level as she finishes 1st grade. That all of her (and their) hard work has paid off. That it now is up to us to keep her reading to keep building on the momentum she is on.
Thea is lucky. She has been in a school where they value creating reading experiences above everything else. Where they work with each child at their level and try to keep reading magical. Where each child is given time to read self-chosen books, receive one-to-one or small group instruction, and the emphasis is on reading for fun, not reading for requirement or prizes. As a school, they have said no to so many things we know can harm the love of reading.
Our role as parents has been to uphold the expectations they have created; reading for fun, reading as a natural part of our day, reading as something that becomes part of the conversations we have every day. We have gladly embraced it. We have not had to protect our daughter’s burgeoning love of reading from some of the practices such as reading logs, reading for rewards, AR, or forced daily reading reflections we see around schools, but what if we did? What can we do then?
We can ask questions. I think of all of the well-meaning things I did my first years as a teacher that I thought would help children read more that I now cringe at; reading logs, rewards, book reports and projects, reading reflections every night and so on. No parent ever asked questions because they assumed I knew what I was doing, but the truth is, I was still developing and learning. I did these things because I thought that is what good teachers did. Whenever parents ask questions, it may at first be off-putting, but in the end it always helps me grow. It always offers me a chance for genuine reflection, a chance to re-visit the components that I teach. This is never a bad thing even if it feels that way at first.
We can share the research. These ideas of protecting a love of reading are not just based on momentary whims. Research has shown time and time again how for example external factors such as points, scores, or even food negatively impact a child’s desire to read. (For a great article on reading logs see this). If a school has misguided practices in place, then perhaps they have not seen what is out there that can help them grow? There are nice ways to present research that doesn’t involve chastising other people, especially since it is not always the choice of a teacher to do some of these things, but instead that of a well-meaning district. So share research and don’t be disappointed if it makes no difference, sometimes even the best research only plants a seed that we will not see come to fruition for a long time.
We can lie. I know that sounds terrible, but as far as Thea’s kindergarten reading log, I decided to sign it every night and not show her. She didn’t need to know that she was working toward anything, nor did she need to know that I had to keep track. So I didn’t tell her and I didn’t keep track, instead I rummaged through her backpack every night and simply signed so her teacher could in turn sign off every morning. Thea was a reader but even readers take a night off her and there.
We can say no. No one wants to be THAT parent but sometimes we have to be. Saying no to a school-wide practice such as reading logs or the use of AR can be a daunting task, but we have to remember the bigger picture; protecting a child’s love of reading. In Thea’s first kindergarten class, she was presented with a reading log on the 2nd day of school, all in order to be included in a pizza party. When I asked questions about it, I was told that in later years the reading log would be a part of her grade for reading and that if she didn’t do it, her reading grade would suffer. Her grade! While, at first, this startled me I soon realized that I was fine with that. So be it if her grade was lower because she didn’t participate. Her grade didn’t matter as long as she found reading enjoyable and not something you did to earn something. Sometimes change will not come until parents speak up, so be the voice of reason and if you see something changing your child’s reading habits for the worse, then do something about it. Don’t just expect it to be ok in the end. Protect your child’s love of reading as you would their health; it is vital for a happy life.
We can create our own enjoyable reading experiences. Sometimes we have to be the counterpoint to the environment our children are in. If we know that self-selected books are a major component to creating pleasurable reading experiences then that is what we should strive for. While the parent in me often felt panicked that Thea was not making the necessary gains as a reader, the teacher in me knew that it simply would take time. That forcing her to read more books every night, or even write more about her reading, would only make the experience miserable for her. So keeping reading fun, making it a family event (see this blog post for lots of summer reading experience ideas) and making it a natural part of your day are all choices we can make, whether or not our child’s school believes in it.
We have been so lucky as we look back on Thea’s short reading life. As she switches school this coming school year, I can only hope that it will continue. We may sometimes wonder about the policies that directly influence our children, but we should never feel powerless. As parents, we have a right and a responsibility to protect our child, we must ever forget that.
If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books. While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher. Those books will be published in 2017 hopefully, so until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.