Are schools destroying your child's love of reading?

Because I write middle grade fiction, I have engaged in conversations from time to time with parents who have concerns about their children's reading habits--or lack thereof. While this is an ongoing concern for parents these days as so many other things are competing for children's attention, the saddest thing I hear from parents is that the way some schools approach reading is actually killing their child's love of books.

I have heard this from multiple parents in many states and many different types of schools. But the details of what's going on seem to be very similar.

First, some parents tell me that their children are only allowed to choose books at their reading level, as determined by Lexile (tm) scores. Many criticisms of the Lexile (tm) framework exist and should be considered carefully by discerning parents and educators. The bottom line is that the scores may not reflect the overall suitability of the book, or the child's actual reading ability; in addition, by tossing aside whole groups of books because they are suddenly "too easy" for a developing child you may be removing from the child all the books he or she is currently interested in, and replacing them with books he or she finds dull and uninteresting. The kids who are penalized the most by this system are the avid readers whose reading ability is far advanced for their ages; they may soon find themselves being handed books with subject matter and story lines far beyond their emotional level on the grounds that the lighthearted middle-school fiction they enjoy is too easy for them to read. 

Second, I have heard from some parents that their children's schools require their children to do a nightly reading assignment at home. Being required to read at home for twenty minutes each evening is not at all a bad thing (I would have loved such assignments as a child, as it would have given me permission to set aside the subjects I found more difficult in order to enjoy a good book). But the other part of the assignment almost always takes all the joy out of it: the child is expected to complete a reading log or journal detailing what he or she read, how many pages, etc., and sometimes to give a brief report on the day's reading. Here are a few examples of reading logs, if you haven't seen them.

Can you imagine anything that would strip the joy from getting to read your newest favorite book faster than this? Instead of finishing their homework and grabbing the book, the children must set a timer, make sure they've read for the required twenty minutes, record that reading session on whatever form or log the teacher requires, and then, in some cases, get a parent's signature to show that they have, in fact, completed their reading for the day. A world of adventure and imagination becomes an uninspiring bureaucratic task, dreaded and then completed like the dullest bit of regular homework.

Unfortunately, schools seem to be promoting a view of reading that diminishes it. The child must take standardized tests to determine his or her reading level; he or she is only permitted books at that level; he or she must then complete a daily reading task designed to turn a pleasurable activity into a chore. I think we can and should do better to teach our children to love books.

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