With all of my flying time I recently had the chance to read Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher.
Readicide had been recommended to me in a recent coaches’ workshop but my interest in reading it was enhanced as I just finished working with a high school that has 60plus percent of their students needing intensive reading courses.
Gallagher, a high school English teacher in Anaheim, CA and author of several books on teaching reading and writing, argues that our instructional practices in all content areas as well as in reading and English classrooms are killing reading.
Here are a few of the spots I highlighted in my reading:
In an earlier blog, I noted parents’ use of vocabulary with preschoolers and its impact on learning. Gallagher states, ”If those students who enter schools linguistically impoverished — thirty –two million words behind—do not read extensively, they will never catch up. This bears repeating: struggling readers who do not read voraciously will never catch up.” This creates a challenge for teachers who need to convince the students who least want to read … to read a lot. Gallagher’s own survey identified that seniors reported reading on average 13 minutes a day at school (outside of his English class). Generally students who needed reading practice most, read less.
Does it makes sense that many schools have dropped sustained silent reading when data suggest that on average Americans fifteen to twenty-four spend only seven minutes of their leisure time on reading?
Gallagher shares a classroom occurrence of his that illustrates the problem of students lacking sufficient authentic reading experiences. Students reading an article stopped him and asked for help with understanding the phrase, “ the lifeblood of al Qaeda”. His first probing question to the students elicited the concern, ”We don’t even know who this Al guy is.” Gallagher provides other examples from his students and concerns from other teachers that illustrate high school seniors, soon eligible to vote, lack sufficient background knowledge to be full participating citizens.
How can teachers respond?
Gallagher institutes an “Article of the Week” assignment sending students to real world news stories, essays, editorials, blogs, and speeches. (See a listing with links to recent articles he uses) A classroom set of Newsweek provides Gallagher’s students with a real world text reading assignment one night a week. I have personally seen less authentic reading tasks in classrooms as teachers increase test prep activities.
Readicide concludes with a list of concrete steps teachers can take to develop recreational and academic readers. Both are critical.
Gallagher recommends bringing the books to the students. He has 2000 books in his room and list 100 books his students love in his appendix. Larry Ferlazzo’s blog shares how he has students review 100 books on the opening day of school to identify interest and select a first read for the year.
A teacher like Gallagher or Ferlazzo would have been a great addition to my high school reading practices!