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Kids and reading

Posted: March 16th, 2010, 2:45 pm
by mmcdonald64
The post on men and books got me thinking about kids and books. I've tried so hard to get my children to love reading, but it hasn't taken. It almost did when I homeschooled my two oldest sons for a few years each during middle school. I set aside time every day where they had to read, but I didn't care what they read. I stocked up the bookshelves with a bunch of books from a used bookstore, and visited the library often. It was the most they ever read in their lives, and the time one son said, "Wait, I just want to get to the end of this chapter." before he could come out for lunch, was the highlight of my homeschooling 'career'. Except, they both went to highschool and lost interest in reading.

My daughter is nine, and she's not that interested either, and looking at her book report assignments, I half wonder if that is one of the reasons. This is a list of things she needs to do for a book report due tomorrow. Granted, these are due quarterly, and she's had plenty of time to do it, but to me, it just kills any pleasure she might have gotten from reading the book. (or in this case, books, as she had to pick two books by the same author.) Oh, and the books she really wanted to do, Hatchet and Brian's Winter, by Gary Paulsen, weren't allowed because they were 6th grade books and the teacher decided they'd be too hard for my daughter. (she read Hatchet at the end of third grade, so she can read them, she's just not a great student.).

Summaries for both books
1-2 passages copied from the books with 3-5 sentences for each, stating why the passages are relevant to the student, the character or the author.
Author biography
A character diagram for each book. Basically, pick one character, and write five things about that character.
A project, ie, create a new book cover, design a movie poster, become the character, write an email to the author
At least 5 vocabulary words from each book, write the definitions, write the sentence you found them in, and then use them in your own sentence.
And a Venn diagram for the books. (I had to ask my daughter what that was.)
I think there might even be one more thing, but I can't recall it.

Did I mention she's just nine? If my 4th grade teacher had presented me with that, I think I might have hated reading forever. It would just be work. Instead, my 4th grade teacher gave us at least 30 minutes ever day for an indoor break. We could do whatever we wanted. Sometimes we played jacks, I learned how to play chess (the teacher often would play a student during this time) or I read. Mostly, I read. She had a well stocked bookshelf and I recall reading The Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe.

I can't help thinking that if the schools provided time for reading, with no strings attached, more kids would love it, including more boys--who seem to be the ones who dislike reading the most.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 16th, 2010, 3:20 pm
by charlotte49ers
As a third grade teacher, here is my take:

Summaries for both books - Makes sense - kids need to know how to summarize, though this is a much more difficult concept than people realize - I mean, hello, query letters?

1-2 passages copied from the books with 3-5 sentences for each, stating why the passages are relevant to the student, the character or the author. I don't understand why the teacher is going about this area in this way. It sounds like they are trying to work on text to self skills, but it would make more sense to ask if there was anything that related to them as a whole, instead of pinpointing specific passages, but that's a teacher specific decision, I guess. It works on going back and finding information, in this case, which is a worthwhile skill.

Author biography Makes sense

A character diagram for each book. Basically, pick one character, and write five things about that character. Makes sense - I probably would have provided a graphic organizer to help them with this, though

A project, ie, create a new book cover, design a movie poster, become the character, write an email to the author Makes sense to me - project based learning is becoming very popular and it is effective, from what I can tell

At least 5 vocabulary words from each book, write the definitions, write the sentence you found them in, and then use them in your own sentence. Standard assignment, though research shows that dictionary definitions rarely help a student understand the word, though in conjunction with the other stuff, it should help

And a Venn diagram for the books. (I had to ask my daughter what that was.) Your daughter should know how to create a Venn diagram easily by the fourth grade - it's pretty standard in the classroom these days

We are required to teach so many reading skills that they need these chances to analyze text. However, this should be balanced by plenty of opportunities to self-select text just for fun. My students are required to read 15-20 minutes each night (keep a log), but they can read comic books, newspapers, whatever they want as long as it has words. And you know? I haven't had a problem with any of my students completing it, unless their parents are lying when they sign their logs. ;-)

We also have plenty of free-read time in class.

And in defense of her teacher not allowing her to use Hatchet, I'm sure she wanted your daughter to be as successful as possible, and if her test scores show that on average, that level is too high, then I can understand her decision. With projects like this, it's important to make them managable for the student, otherwise they might get overly frustrated. We kind of have to have a standard to go by and if your daughter isn't regularly a good student, I can agree with the teacher's decision here. However, I would hope that she would give her a chance with it, if your daughter was adamant. She might also want her to use books she hasn't read before, too. I don't know, obviously.

Anyway, I think balance is the key to keeping kids interested. At the same time, my students have a hard time doing anything that isn't flashing lights at them or screaming sirens or whatever video games do now. I'm a Wii Fit or Mario Cart kind of girl, so I don't do all the shoot 'em up stuff. ;-) I think it's important as parents to tone down the technical entertainment down some and provide opportunities for them to read (which it sounds like you do). Not shove it down their throats, mind you, but make it a staple in the home.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 16th, 2010, 4:06 pm
by mmcdonald64
Broken down, I think each part of the book report is fine, I just question all of it on just two books. It's overkill to me, and sucks the enjoyment right out of reading the books.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 16th, 2010, 5:08 pm
by Rhonda
My son is in 4th grade. His most recent book report included a sensory botte filled with 7 items that he then wrote 7 sentences for describing how they related to the book and present to the class. He also had to write a 5 paragraph essay (each paragraph had a specific topic), and keep a daily journal of certain aspects of the book while he was reading it. To me that sounds ike a lot for a 4th grader too, but it was actually pretty easy. I think that was mostly because he got to do it on a fantasy book and he was already reading the Ranger's Apprentice series and could just do it on the one he was currently reading. It's when my kids are forced to read a certain book or type of book that they don't care for that the reports become more of a problem for them. My son absolutely loves reading in general though. He even has his own bok review blog I don't see book reports ever discouraging his recreational reading, even once he starts having to write them on books he wouldn't have chosen on his own. But that may just be him.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 16th, 2010, 5:37 pm
by charlotte49ers
Yeah, I get what you are saying. If this is supposed to be a culminating activity each quarter or something, I can see why it would be so much, but it does seem like a lot even still. :)

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 17th, 2010, 9:25 am
by gonzo2802
I have to admit, it was because of the practice of having to write all those reports and topic sentences, etc, that I found myself really turned off from reading - esp. when I hit high school. Shakespeare was the only reading material they pushed on us that I found interesting then (strange, for a high schooler, I know), but the rest of it was a form of torture. To this day I still sneer at "Great Expectations" every time I see it on a book shelf anywhere. I don't remember much about the story anymore, but the resentment towards it still stands.

Reading in school can be a double-edged sword. I understand why kids are asked to focus and do the essays, etc, but at the same time, more often than not, it sucks all the fun out of reading. There's a danger that, to a young mind, books start to feel like "too much work" and the idea of reading for pleasure gets lost a bit.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 17th, 2010, 5:55 pm
by lightelement94
gonzo2802 wrote: To this day I still sneer at "Great Expectations" every time I see it on a book shelf anywhere. I don't remember much about the story anymore, but the resentment towards it still stands.
They threw that at me two summers ago and it's completely turned me off anything Dickens ever since. Which is sad.

I think schools have actually been really good about incorporating as much reading as possible into the curriculums. The trouble is, at least for the middle grades, the book choices. 6-8th grade, at least in my experience and that of my friends, is that the books are pitched across a spectrum that may or may not have honors classes. So, everyone, no matter how good at English you are, ends up with the same mass-produced books that wouldn't have even been published if they didn't occupy some historical niche that aligned with the history/humanities classes' material. The Golden Goblet (still confused as to how this one won a Newberry), Dar and the Spear-Thrower, Across the Lines, and The Sherwood Ring are all perfect examples of awful books that were thrust down our throats and probably left most the grade hating English the entire year.

Then again, when schools pick great books (we did To Kill a Mockingbird in eight grade, Romeo and Juliet in ninth, Frankenstein and Jane Eyre in tenth) they seem to be taught with much more sophistication and appreciation that it definitely rubs off onto the class. The students at my current school, who were taught The Catcher in the Rye in ninth grade, were devastated when they found out Salinger had died. My 7th grade brother, who's never been a big reader, was introduced to Julius Caesar this year, and now loves Shakespeare. That was the grade that threatened to turn me away from O'Henry forever just because of how condescending the short stories we were taught (in an honors class) were. You teach English down to kids, nobody's going to want to go further. They hit a literary stone wall.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 17th, 2010, 9:24 pm
by Nick
Ugh I remember those assignments. Not like it doesn't still happen but at least now I can kind of BS my way through it. 4th grade man...I wanted to play tag, not read books I had no interest in. That was the biggest problem. We were assigned dull tripe that was far, far below what I was reading in 4th grade. Granted some of my resentment comes not from the assignments, but for genuine dislike of the author, such as in the case of Shakespeare. Honestly the thing that irked me most of all was from fifth or sixth grade through tenth grade, everything had to have some kind of subtext. And I mean everything. I once diverted us from reading Catcher in the Rye for two days of class to argue with the teacher about whether or not something (I forget what now, but I remember it was ungodly asinine) had deeper meaning or was just what it was. Actually what annoys me even more is that you have to go with the teacher's (or, more accurately, the English department's) interpretation of things, which is equally balls. Come to think of it, why do I enjoy reading? By all accounts I ought to have turned up like every other kid I know and just scoff at the notion of anything with any greater level of storytelling than Transformers.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 19th, 2010, 9:43 pm
by Ishta
This post has me thinking about this in all sorts of directions.

First, a number of people have said that they got "turned off from reading" towards the end of elementary school because the texts that they were assigned in class weren't interesting. However, these texts are widely recognized as some of the best that the history of literature has to offer. (I didn't say "the best", I said "SOME OF the best", so don't jump on me.) On the other hand, books - especially MG and YA books - that have turned into blockbusters lately have not necessarily been heralded as high art in the literary world; they're mostly classed as "pulp" or "fluff". So: do we want kids to read, or do we want kids to read what we want them to read? I mean this seriously. The recent discussion about TWILIGHT has shown that there are some very strong opinions out there about what should and should not be published, and what is and isn't considered to be a "good read". But if kids don't want to read what is thought of as "literary fiction", then what good is it? On the other hand, is reading "trashy" novels getting kids anywhere? Is it any better than reading nothing at all? (I'm putting terms like "literary fiction" and "trashy" in quotes, because I want to be clear that I'm not personally branding anything as specifically being "good" or "bad" literature; I just want to enter into a discussion about this.) I enjoy reading books across the spectrum, from Jane Austen to Stephenie Meyer to Beverly Cleary to Shakespeare. I really do get something out of all of them. And as I write for myself first, I occasionally find myself thinking: "Would I consider this to be a book of quality to be read and re-read, or would I think of it as a light work of fiction to be enjoyed and then disposed of? This is fun, but do I want to write something more or less high-brow?"

This brings me to my second question, which is: How does your answer to the first question influence your writing?

Also: Charlotte said:
charlotte49ers wrote:
We are required to teach so many reading skills that they need these chances to analyze text.
Why are these requirements present at the 4th grade level? I'm not a teacher, so I have no clue about how the curriculum is structured. But why isn't it enough to just put books in their hands and then ask them a couple of comprehension questions afterward? I'm just curious about this last one; it seems to me that if the consensus on book reports is that they're turning kids off of books, then we should can 'em and think of a better way. But I'm speaking without any insight into the reasons for things being the way they are.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 19th, 2010, 10:09 pm
by maybegenius
When I was in school, we did have required reading, but we also had "points" reading, which was similar to what's been mentioned here already - we could read whatever we wanted, as long as it had words. I thought it was a good way to encourage reading. I suppose I'm kind of weird, because I was always a reader as a child. I did go through a period where I hated reading anything that was assigned to me because I felt like it was "forced" on me, but that was more my own bucking of the system rather than actively hating what I was reading. Though I still loathe The Scarlet Letter. Bleh. But I loved Shakespeare, Lord of the Flies, A Brave New World, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1984...

I agree that teaching down to kids is a great way to turn them off. I also think that as our tastes vary as adults, they will as kids too. Dickens bored me to death as a kid and bores me to death now, yet I was made to read it. Still, even though I hated some of the books that were forced on me, it never stopped me from reading what I wanted to read. I did receive some social pressure in elementary school not to "be a dork" and read, which had an effect on me.

Perhaps kids are just naturally drawn to different ways of learning or appreciating art? Maybe some of them feel more at home in music or drama as opposed to literature? Or maybe there's a good deal of social pressure not to read. Reading is a solitary, quiet activity, which is why its often viewed as "dorky" (anti-social, not exciting). I personally think that's part of the reason why young boys often stray away from reading, while girls continue to. Boys are supposed to like "active" things, and girls are supposed to enjoy "quieter" activities. My brother used to be a big reader/writer, and then he hit high school and the popular crowd and left it behind for skateboarding (which he was terrible at) and making music.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 19th, 2010, 11:21 pm
by Ishta
Maybegenius, I agree with much of what you have said. Social pressures play a big role in how kids conduct themselves and in the choices they make, and boys are definitely pressured to participate in "active" things like sports and bicycles and skateboards. Whenever my neighbors learn that we haven't signed up our older son (who will turn 7 this summer) for team sports, the response is always an incredulous, "WHY?" He's just not interested; he'll go out and ride his bike with his dad or play in the yard with all of us, but if he has a choice, he'll always choose reading over everything else. But there is a huge stigma attached to it. I feel badly for the kids I see who are pressured by their parents to do things that don't interest them, because that's what the other kids do and they don't want their own kids to seem "different". (I've seen that a lot.)

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 20th, 2010, 3:17 am
by PaulWoodlin
My Dad read to me and my brother when we were kids. He had a 50% success rate in getting us to love reading. Make of that what you will.

Personally, I'm keeping my copies of "Harry Potter" for when I have kids, and my dad's copies of the "Foundation Trilogy", which is what got me started on SF/F. Anyone remember those old paperbacks with the cubist imagery on the cover? Those were cool.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 20th, 2010, 11:48 am
by Erica75
I have to admit I haven't read all of the comments here. I just want to comment to the 3rd grade teacher (Charlotte?) Yes, parents of third graders do lie on their daily reading calendars. My son is great reader - in 3rd grade, he's reading at a 6th grade level and tests at 186 words per minute. I am a teacher and a writer and love reading - and I lie on his calendar. Some days we just don't get to it. I tried being honest and wrote a note to his teacher (my classroom is two doors down, but I still resorted to note-writing, lying coward that I am) explaining why his January calendar wasn't filled in on every day - family obligations, etc. In return, he got a note on his February report card about not completing homework. Now I lie instead.

To the original poster, not everyone loves reading. Sorry. In high school and college, I had very little time for casual reading. While I raised my kids and got my masters degree, it happened again. Now I'm enjoying it again and have recently completed the novel I am now querying. Maybe your kids will get back into it when they're ready.

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 20th, 2010, 12:13 pm
by charlotte49ers
About the requirements on reading - we don't ask them to do anything crazy. I mean, is it really that far out there to try and have students relate their reading to something else? Or to be able to summarize what they've read, understand the genre, etc? Most of what we work on are thinking skills, like inferencing, drawing conclusions, etc. It's not unreasonable, in my opinion. Other subjects we teach, I think the standards are a little much, but reading is actually not one of them. It's basic skills that we as adults take for granted. A lot of kids need to be explicitly taught how to predict what will happen and other basic reading strategies, so elementary school is where that happens.

Like I said, I think it's important to have a balance in the classroom to make sure kids have time to read books that are fun on top of stuff they read to learn. I personally don't use the textbook anymore in my classroom, but pull trade books for reading instruction. My students (of course this is a generalization, but on the whole) can't wait to get to reading time because how we approach it is different than what they've done before. I think teachers need to try to think outside the box to make sure most kids still love to read.

On that notion, AR (Accelerated Reader) is really pushed by our librarian and she lays the guilt on if your kids don't meet their goal. At first, I though this was okay, but as time has gone on, I don't like it. My kids are starting to resent AR reading time (which is basically free read, but they have to take comprehension tests) and next year, she can just guilt away because I'm not going to push my kids like I did this year.

And I'm sure parents lie, my thing is though, if the students have time to watch one television show, then they have 15 minutes to read. And like I said, I don't even care what it is that they read - it can be comics, a magazine, whatever. So I would hold the students and parents to that standard and your child would have gotten the same mark on his report card if I were the teacher. Asking for 15 minutes four days a week is not unreasonable. Heck, I read for 15 minutes everyday and I'm not even required to (computer counts ;-). Now, if your child's teacher demands you read with them or that they read library books, etc., I can see where that would be more difficult to make happen. But research shows just reading at home those few minutes a day increases their fluency, so if we don't hold the student/parents accountable, they'd never do it. Plus, if you gripe and moan about it (not saying you do, this is a general you), the students will pick up on that and have the same attitude. You have to be on board.

I also loved reading in elementary school/middle school, hated it in high school, and got back into fiction reading in college (but only Harry Potter) and now I always have a book in hand. I think it goes in cycles for pretty much everyone (with the exceptions, of course).

Re: Kids and reading

Posted: March 23rd, 2010, 3:19 pm
by Rhonda
I can see accelerated reader quizes being used to guilt the kids, but so far my son loves taking those tests. They get rewards for how many words they read from the librarian at his school (he is one book away from reaching his 2,000,000 words mark for this school year) and also can earn rewards for reading certain types of books or authors. Plus this year any day he takes an AR quiz, he doesn't have to log a summary of his daily reading. He dislikes the task of putting pencil to paper so much that he would much rather take an AR test, even though they actually take him longer to complete. So maybe it's just him or maybe it's the way AR tests have been used in his school, but I'm all for them.