Be Free Little Readers! Be Free!

children reading

A friend of mine sent me this article a few days ago: https://pernillesripp.com/2016/06/21/the-reading-rules-we-would-never-follow-as-adult-readers/.

It pulled up a lot of unhappy memories of little GoldenDragon reading in Elementary School.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my elementary school. WestCreek pride! I loved my teachers. Many of them helped to foster my current love of reading. I didn’t, however, love the rules that my teachers had to enforce.

Rules almost killed my love of reading. We had so many. Here are just the few that I had to deal with the most:

-You have to read this many books a week.

-You have to log this many reading hours a day.

-You have to write this many, and this many kinds, of book reports each month.

-You have to pass this many reading tests a week.

-You can only check out books from the library with your grade’s color on the spine.

I did break this last rule. I had already read everything that looked interesting from my grade level shelf, so I walked over to the purple section of the library (*gasp two grades above mine*) and picked out another book. The librarian probably should have stopped me there, but she didn’t seem to care. Funny enough, we were best friends by the time I graduated.

My teacher was furious!

I had never been in trouble before. Needless to say, I never tried to be a rebel again.

I got a stern talking to and was told that I didn’t have time to pick out another book. If I couldn’t finish that book by the end of the week and receive a passing grade on its AR test, she would have to take disciplinary action.

Okay, let’s get real. I was in the third grade. What would that have been…a strongly worded letter to my parents? They were both teachers. They probably would have been proud of me!

So what did I do? I nodded, I sat down, and I buried my nose in the book. Friday morning, I sat down at the classroom computer to take the test…and I got 100%! Booyah! I would totally go back in time and give myself a high five if I could. That 100% earned me respect from my third grade teacher and a special library pass that allowed me to check out any book from any grade level.

Did I always get 100% on my book tests? No. Sometimes I even bit off more than I could chew and failed. All that mattered, however, was that I was given the chance to try. I was free!

So what about that article? It asks a very important question: Why do we make young readers follow reading rules that we, as adults, don’t want to follow?

We shouldn’t! That’s the correct answer!

I would like to add my voice to the specific rules that Pernille Ripp talks about:

1. Young readers aren’t allowed to choose their own books: This is the #1 no-no rule. If someone is never allowed to read material that interests them, how do you expect them to develop a love of reading? I don’t mean that you can’t assign a book for the class to read. I understand that older students need some structure. But the teachers I remember learning from the most, elementary to college, were the ones who tore down the boundaries in the library and said any book, any level, any shelf, just tie it back to this theme/time period/argument/movement/whatever.

2. Young readers are pushed into a period of forced reflection: You need to test their reading and writing capabilities somehow. I get it. Again, my parents were teachers. I had to help them grade all of their assignments, as well as write my own. I remember one of the first times I really felt like I’d grown up and moved on to high school. One of my new teachers handed me a piece of paper and told me to write about the chapters I’d read so far. We’d already read like 20 chapters in class…in class…I had already finished the book at home.

“Um, which chapters, sir?”

“I don’t care.”

“What exactly do you want me to write?”

“I don’t care.”

“There isn’t a question or a format?”

“Nope.”

“Well how long does it have to be?”

“I don’t care.”

That was freedom right there, and he still had something to prove that I’d been paying attention in class. On the other hand, I’ve had teachers who’ve handed me computer paper with lines within a weekly schedule and told me to fill up the page for each day of reading. No respect!

3. Young readers are graded on their ability to track their progress: Again, I think Pernille Ripp brings up a fascinating question: How many times do teachers(, or school librarians for that matter,) tell students that they should be reading every day, during, before, and after school, and during the summer, for at least and hour or two, and yet not follow a similar schedule? No one is the same. No one learns the same or reads the same. How can you expect them to meet a standard that you can’t even meet? So you say you’re not grading their reading schedules or logs. They’re just there to prove the child has read…Yeah, right. Like you’re not judging them based on how little they read. Who wants to have to log in a specific amount of reading time a day? That’s a sure fire way to make reading a chore.

4. Young readers are forced into a competition mentality: Who wants to be told to read a certain number of hours a day? A child who expects to gain a prize from it. Yep, I’ve had run-ins with STAR test Fridays and prize giveaways and summer reading logs. If I’m being honest, I did enjoy earning points and prizes from STAR Tests, but I usually gave the fake money back to my teacher immediately to pay for an extra trip to the school library or a paperback from the donated library. I’ll tell you another secret, I filled in the summer reading logs, but I never turned them in to earn prizes. I just wanted everyone in the class to see that I’d won!! Okay, so that’s kind of competitive. I’m hearing it now. But at least I enjoyed what I was doing. Most of the kids in my class did not.

5. Young readers are not allowed to put down books and find new ones when they want to: Sometimes you just can’t finish a book. Period. This one never even crossed my mind as being a problem, but it makes sense. Like that time I broke the rules and checked out a higher level book. The teacher thought that I was going to fail the STAR test, but she didn’t say go put the book back and get an easier one. No, she told me to read it and try to pass the test or fail. Those were my only two options. If you’re older and you decide that you want to quit reading a book that your teacher is testing you on, that’s a different matter. You *probably* deserve to fail that test. If you’re a younger student who doesn’t know what you like to read or even what you can read yet…sometimes you just need some lee way.

I understand that never is a strong word. No two schools, teachers, students, or books are exactly alike. So I won’t use the word never. But I really don’t think that these rules are fair. These things should probably never be imposed on students. This might be a way to create test takers, but not book lovers. The cruelty to young readers should stop now!

I would like to say that I’d like to add something to Pernille Ripp’s list…but this pretty much sums it up. I’ll just leave you with these insightful thoughts and the memory of poor, sad little GoldenDragon finally breaking free.

I’d really like to know if anyone else had similar experiences to mine, or different ones. Let me know. Did we miss any rules?

P.S. I have felt the same way about rules imposed of writing classes. However, I wanted to give an answer a response to this article. Check back later to hear me go on and on and whine about rules imposed by writing teachers. 🙂 It’ll be a blast!

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