I recently began a course on Reading Strategies for the Secondary School Student. This is required if I am to receive status as a ‘highly-qualified’ teacher. This was my response to the instructor’s Pre-Reading Question concerning a teacher’s role in the reading process. Enjoy my coffee-fueled rant. And start collecting coins for me when they fire me next year for not gaining ‘HQ’ status.
Does Reading Really Matter?
Maybe it’s because I teach a language that is no longer spoken (Latin).* Maybe it’s because I see what
students are using for communication these days ( r u ok). Maybe it’s my own frustration at not having
enough free time to enjoy leisure reading. Whatever the cause, I am feeling contrary. To that end, as we begin
this course on reading strategies, I want to ask what we are doing as educators to address the larger
issue: reading is no longer as relevant as it was two decades ago? To be fair, students need
to recognize letters; they need simple spelling skills and basic reading comprehension. But my point is this:
why are we continuing to teach and test students on reading LITERATURE? What’s the point?
At my high school, we push around the word ‘RELEVANT’ with regard to our curriculum. Whatever in the world
is relevant about Charles Dickens? I believe so much of our high school curriculum, especially in the literate
disciplines (social studies, English, foreign language), is designed to prepare students for a University curriculum
rather than for life. Why else do we teach Spanish (for example) as a linguistics class (emphasis on grammar, creation
of forms) rather than Spanish for conversation or for professional use (‘Sit down. May I offer you coffee?’ ‘Please be
calm. The doctor is on the way.’)? In other classes, why do we continue to teach the 5-paragraph essay? Do business
reports or grocery lists have an introduction, 3 supporting points, and a conclusion?! Of course not. We teach literate-ness
(I use this made-up term to differentiate from basic literacy) simply to prepare students for further education.
In all honesty, I do not believe that today’s students need to be literate in the manner in which we currently teach it. Students
text all the time (wtf!) and that is the ever-increasing language of business — blackberries, etc. are the current medium for
professional discourse. And the emphasis on PowerPoint in the classroom, use by teachers and by students, as a strategy
for real-world relevancy only indicates an awareness that bullet points — not 5-paragraph essays — make the point!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a return to sticks and scratches in the sand. But I believe that we must address
what I see as a fundamental issue among many students, especially low-performing readers — ‘why do I need this?’ I have
taught remedial reading classes for 9th graders. In preparing students for a state-designed End-Of-Course test, I took the
reading comprehension test with the students just to see what it offered. As a well-educated person (2 graduate degrees),
I missed the two comprehension questions on Dickens’s Bleak House. However could I justify these questions for 14-year-olds?
With that said, I will tuck in and begin reading the chapter entitled ‘Reading Matters.’
* Except by the Pope, and certain German and Finnish radio stations