Friday, August 31, 2007

Teachers - Encourage or Discourage Reading?

Last week we discussed what book series may encourage kids to read. What is a teacher's role in encouraging their students to read? Is it possible for a teacher with the best intentions to actually have the opposite effect? My answer is a resounding YES!

First let me stress the fact that I am a huge supporter of teachers. In my opinion, they have the most important job in the world! Doctors, lawyers, the president? How would they do their jobs if they never had teachers to train and inspire them. This is definetly not a teacher bashing blog!!

Now, let me share the experiences of two students with you. Both had reading assignments and both had teachers who were doing their very best to encourage their students to read - one with possitive results, and one with the opposite effect.

The first student, we'll call her "K" as not to embarrass her (I know no one that knows our family will ever figure out the true identity of "K"), had to read a book of her choice and give a book report in front of the entire class! Every teen's nightmare, right? Not "K"! Although she is a quiet child and is like the majority who fears standing up in front of the class more than death, she was actually ecstatic about this assignment. She just finished reading the second book in her favorite series, so she decided she was going to give the report on both books. Unfortunately the speech did have a time limit so "K" lost points for going over. Of course, she probably could have shared her knowledge of the books without losing points if she would have just trimmed the last sentence off her report, "Both Pretty Little Liars and Flawless by Sara Shepard are available right here in Oconto at BayShore Books!" That's my girl!

The second student, we'll call him "C" even though the chance of him ever reading this are slim to none (Unless "K" tells "C" in which case the big "M" is in trouble!), also had to read but he just had to write book reports. He had it easy, right? Not so fast! He had to read a minumum of 4 books per semester for a C and do a book report on each AND the books had to all be about a specific subject. (The actual numbers and subjects here may not be accurate, since the gray hair roots have begun to strangle my brain. For that I apologize) The last semester the subject was World War II. "C" just recently discovered that reading can be fun when he stumbled upon Neal Shusterman. After devouring all of his books, he just began the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. He set book two aside to read his World War II books. The first couple were actually quite interesting and "C" even found another favorite book in My Mother Kept a Scrapbook: the True Story of a WWII POW, by Gerhard Johnson as told to local author Kathleen Marie Marsh. I find that usually a book or two on a certain subject is plenty to satisfy my curiosity and unfortunately so did "C". Once again getting him to read was like pulling teeth. He knew all there was to know about WWII and completely lost interest. He couldn't continue with the Artemis Fowl series, because if he was going to read he should be reading his WWII books. Guilt kept him from reading all together. He struggled through the last book or two, pulled off a C and then summer break began. Now he had the time to read what he wanted, but he couldn't remember what was happening in his series and he had no desire to start over. That passion for reading, which took years to establish, was completely wiped out in one school year. Luckily toward the end of summer he watched The Outsiders and is now reading his second S.E. Hinton book.

The point of this story? Telling a kid to read is not enough and telling a kid what to read can actually do more harm than good. Would the second story have been different if the assignment were to read at least 4 books a semester with only two of them having to be World War II books and each student choosing the others? I believe so. What do you think?