Any Reading is Good Reading

Today I received the latest copy of the NEAToday Express in my email.  In it was a link about reading called “Is All Reading Good?”  I have some thoughts that may not be totally organized.

The focus here was about younger readers and whether popular books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the Junie B Jones series were good for students because they modeled poor grammar and behavior.  There are camps on both sides of the issue, but I thought this line was most true:

“I think you should be glad they’re reading anything at all,” says Patricia Edwards, distinguished professor of language and literacy at Michigan State University.

Anyone who has worked with unmotivated readers knows what a challenge it is.  Many teachers or parents believe that if they model reading “good” books that students and children will follow suit and be uninterested in fluff reading and will only read books that inspire them or demonstrate proper attitudes.  Maybe that’s true.  In my experience, however, I have not had that kind of luck.  The true test has come down to the question of “Will the student choose to continue reading this book if I no longer require it?”  More than once, we’ll reach the end of a novel unit and a kid seems to be enjoying it but can’t seem to finish within the allotted time.  Despite the fact that he enjoys the book, he is quite happy to set it aside and never finish it if it is no longer required.

Really, though, we’re also talking about book banning here.  If we’re going to stop allowing kids to read books because they don’t have proper grammar or the protagonists aren’t of the right character value, it’s not too long before we are burning piles of Slaughterhouse Five in the middle of the street.  (I should know because I work with a teacher who was there in North Dakota for that “proud” moment.)  We’re no longer censoring for just sex and violence, but if a kid calls another kid “stupid”?  Are we pretending that doesn’t happen in school?

In short, we must encourage students to read.  Anything at all.  A comic book is better than nothing.  If they enjoy one form of reading, there is a chance for them to enjoy other readings.  If you pull a book out of their hands and scold them for reading this “offensive” material, they may never read again.

I am the language lover and these are my thoughts.

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5 Comments

  1. Jesurgislac said,

    February 24, 2010 at 3:49 am

    Agree completely. Getting a child to read for pleasure is the first and biggest step – no matter what they’re reading for pleasure.

  2. patrice said,

    February 24, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    I don’t know if I’d go so far as to encourage any and all reading “no matter what”, but I definitely don’t think that the bit of bad grammar in Junie B. Jones is going to ruin them – just as my generation who grew up on Sesame Street doesn’t walk around saying things like “Me Hungry” in imitation of Cookie Monster (Does he still talk like that? I think I’ve heard of that being criticized).

    My daughter is 5, and on her first day of kindergarten, I went out and bought a pile of chapter books. Junie B, Mrs. Pigglewiggle, Pippi Longstocking, Beezus and Ramona, etc…We started with Junie B. Jones, and she just wasn’t into it. She still wanted pictures. So after a few nights of trying, I put them away. A few months later, she came back and asked if we could read Junie B Jones (I don’t know where it came from, maybe they talked about it in school). So we did, and it went well. I admit to a wince here or there at some of the silly grammar, but I was just glad she was interested. Actually, I don’t really know any 5 year olds who talk quite like that, and I think that they recognize that it’s wrong too – more than we give them credit for.

    Now we’re reading Pippi. My daughter’s name is Annika and there is a character with that name, which excites her. She likes to act out the things that the character Annika says and does while I read it. I sometimes have a hard time being patient with this, as it’s supposed to be a bedtime story where she settles down…but at the same time I want to encourage her excitement.

    Well, anyhow. I enjoy your blog. I’m not a teacher, though I have done some teaching in the past, and really enjoy thinking about pedagogy. It’s just so important. I’m a friend of Scott Erb’s (he was one of MY teachers in college, and really influential, I must say) and found your blog through him. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. patrice said,

    February 25, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Oh and as for the “bad behavior”? Who wants to read a book where everyone only models good behavior! booooo-ring!

    Though I do hope that my daughter doesn’t follow Junie’s lead and call 911 for a “potty emergency”. I used that moment as an opportunity to have a conversation about when to call 911 and when not to. 🙂

  4. February 28, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Thanks for stopping by Patrice and Jesurgislac.

    I really wonder what kind of world people live in that they worry more about what kinds of books that kids are reading instead of whether or not they will ever read. In my experience with high school kids, a large percentage of them have been turned off from reading by teachers in the younger grades trying to force “good” books on them instead of trying to find books that they will want to read. It’s plenty hard to change a fifteen year old’s mind about reading without the prior bad experiences.

  5. Scott Erb said,

    March 28, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    My first grader loves reading, and has been choosing some interesting ones. First he gets all these “Goosebumps” books which are really too complex for him, but with help he works through them. Lately he’s gotten into a series for pre-teen girls called “the Magic Kitty.” He’s enchanted by the magic kitty, and is too young to realize he’s reading a book aimed at 10 or 11 year old girls. But he’s reading, and I like that!


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