Slice of Life: Reading Malpractice

slice of life

I think I should sue my son’s school for reading malpractice. Every day he comes home from school hating reading just a little bit more. Understanding just a little bit less what it means to be a reader. Understanding just a little bit less why anyone would ever want to read. Feeling more confused by the disconnect between the meaningless busywork he’s asked to complete in a reading workbook at school and the astonishingly wonderful world of books that he knows at home.

Against my better judgment, I said yes when his school said he should take the READ 180 reading intervention class this year. There would be independent reading time every day, I was told. I examined the classroom library. Small but fairly choice. There would be time to read with partners, in small groups. Reading would be social. And yes, sure, there was the computer program but that wasn’t really the focus of this class.

And now twice a day he is in a classroom where there is only one rule, one goal. Compliance.

This is what he hears in class. It’s time for you to settle down and start reading. Eyes on your book! Be quiet! Good readers keep their eyes on their books at all times! Good readers are silent when they read! Don’t talk to anyone else about what you’re reading! This isn’t social time! Did you fill out your reading log? You’ve lost three points on this reading log because you didn’t use periods in the correct place.

There is independent reading time, yes, but it’s not integrated into a workshop. The goals of independent reading are silence, eyes on book, and correct completion of the reading log.

That’s bad enough.

And then there is the workbook. All I can say is, Scholastic, you should be so ashamed of yourselves.

This is the story I read to him from his workbook:

Jacob and Luisa are getting married in a week. They are walking through town when Luisa sees an emerald necklace. She wants Jacob to buy it for her. He doesn’t have the money, so he sells his horse to pay for it. When he gives her the necklace, she doesn’t care that he had to sell his horse. She only tells him to put the necklace on her. They are walking in the garden afterwards when Luisa falls ill. Under the necklace, her neck is marked by purple streaks. Jacob removes the necklace and takes it to the river to throw it away. He hears a humming sound as he throws it away. He won’t ever make that mistake again.

While this is a summary, there wasn’t much more to the story. It wasn’t even a full page of text. There was no setting, no theme, no character development, and no plot if we define plot as “this happened, and then this other thing happened as a result of the first thing.” It was random, nonsensical, and boring.

I was horrified, first of all, that this passed for a story in the workbook. But then there was the “essay” he had to write for homework. This was the prompt:

Write a literary analysis of the relationship between Jacob and Luisa.

My brain began misfiring. First of all, you can’t write a literary analysis of a relationship. And second of all, there was no relationship. There were only a couple of lines of dialogue in the whole “story” and no interiority for either “character.” I have a Ph.D. in British Literature, and I couldn’t have written an analysis (literary or otherwise) of the “relationship” between these two “characters.” What in the world is a struggling reader supposed to do with that? And the poor students were given more blank lines to write their essay than the “story” itself had! Thankfully, his teacher had arbitrarily marked a line on his workbook page and written “Stop!” so my son didn’t have to write a page and a half.

My son knew what was important about this assignment: fill the lines to the “Stop!” And he filled them. Mostly with plot summary. I cheered and encouraged and supported to the best of my ability.

But inside my heart was breaking. Because this is what we do to children every day in our schools. This is the “work” we give them. And then we wonder why they don’t do it. Why they become defiant in school. Why they become disengaged. Why they don’t want to learn. Why they can’t read. Why they won’t read.

I learned from my son’s teacher last week that 47 students owe work right now. 47 out of perhaps 70? There’s no mystery about why that is.

What is a parent supposed to do? What is a parent who loves learning, who loves reading, supposed to do? What is a parent whose job is to teach pre-service teachers how to teach reading and writing supposed to do?

Nothing, it turns out. Cheer and encourage and support. And then be silent.

I wanted to write my son a note excusing him from completing this assignment, but he refused.

“It’s easier to just do the assignment, Mom.”

And that hurt too.

Because it isn’t easier to comply. 47 of the kids in this teacher’s classes aren’t complying. They’re protesting. They are standing up against reading malpractice in the only way they know how.

I just wonder when the rest of us are going to stand up too.

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39 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Reading Malpractice

  1. That is so depressing. When my girls were younger, they came home with a textbook that had an excerpted version of “A Little Princess,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett in it. I got so excited to read this book with them because I loved it so much as a child, but the textbook version was absolutely butchered! They spent more time watching the movie in class than they did discussing the book or what was missing. We got out my old childhood copy and read it before bedtime, but I was furious for so long.

  2. Reading malpractice. Ha, perfect term for what you described. This is heart breaking. What are we doing to these kids???? Know that he’ll learn what it really means to be a reader at home.

  3. Worse yet, think of all the students who have noone like you at home to help show them what reading can be. We are doing such a disservice to the students who need us the most when we offer them canned curriculum and discourage them from talking about their reading with one another. I can’t even….

    Here’s what you can feel good about: YOU are the gateway to books for your son. And not only that, by training pre-service teachers, you will be that gateway for so many other young people, without even really knowing how far your reach stretches.

    • I definitely think about this with the other kids in his class. Many will probably never recover from this kind of teaching malpractice–especially when they have years more of it ahead of them. I think the most important work we can do with pre-service teachers is help them become passionate readers, writers, and learners–but that’s rarely the goal of education courses. We have to do better at every level!

  4. So sad and hard to believe these things happen. I’m sorry to hear your son is living this and hope over break you can find a book to peak is interest in reading. Maybe a read aloud together can start that journey. Show him the joy and wonders of reading. Home can overcome things from the outside.

    • We read aloud for at least an hour every day! We’re currently working our way through Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide series, and my son cannot stop talking about Frederick and Gustav. Love seeing that kind of reading excitement!

  5. “Good readers are silent when they read! Don’t talk to anyone else about what you’re reading!” What. Ev. Ver! Silent? I laugh, react, and sometimes read aloud. I love talking about a book like I talk about a movie. Kids should experience words that way.

    I hate to say it, but it sounds like this reading intervention class is being taught by a nonreader. And yes, Scholastic’s READ 180 is a shame. It is a stinking, boring shame.

      • I think many literacy courses are taught by non-readers and non-writers because teacher education programs don’t make that the cornerstone of instruction and don’t connect what we do in our own literate lives to what we should be doing in the classroom. I know my own teaching radically changed when I began to filter everything I did in my classroom through one simple question: “Do actual readers and writers do this?” Turns out that most of what I was doing had to be tossed. Starting over was the best thing I ever did–for myself and my students! I do feel for the teacher and wish I could help him, because I know some things about reading instruction that could radically change his life for the better!

  6. Sad. Sad. Sad. I can relate to this on so many levels this year. Workbook pages, vocabulary pages, critical thinking questions with no discussion…just enough text to make a paragraph, reading an assigned text, reading a part of a wonderful chapter book in a basal, all of these things are a knife to my heart and kill the love of reading for our children. It’s hard to sit back and watch it unfold. You captured it well.

    • Ugh to all of that. Such a waste. It is definitely hard to sit back and watch it unfold when I know better. But I feel like there is only so much I can do. I totally want to buy The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild for ALL the reading teachers at my son’s school…. and maybe I should just do that. I’m sure Donalyn wouldn’t mind!

  7. As a reading specialist, this is what I work so hard against. So many students do not need a scripted intervention. They need to read. Read with support, and read books that are interesting, that engage, that make you want to talk about them. There are some students who need something more intense, but even as they are learning the phonics rules, they can be supported with engaging read alouds and texts.
    Boo 😦

    • My son has two reading classes, both of which are mostly spent with eyes on workbooks. This isn’t reading! This isn’t the reading intervention that is going to help our struggling students. So glad there are reading specialists like you who are working so tirelessly and enthusiastically to promote what works and what is right!

  8. I’m speechless. The classroom routine is bad enough, but that homework assignment is unconscionable! So sorry your son has to endure his reading assignment. I know you’ll do your best to help him become an enthusiastic reader!

    • I feel like my son is going to stop sharing with me about what goes on in that class because I get so outraged and my outrage makes him uncomfortable! We’re reading and loving Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide series right now. As long as I can keep finding wonderful books to read at home, I hope he will continue to be enthusiastic at least at home!

  9. I really don’t want to reply, Elisabeth, except to say how sorry I am, how awful, how embarrassing that there is someone who is making this happen. Don’t get me started about the fact that my grandson spent over six weeks as a 7th grader reading Tuck Everlasting. I love this book, but now my grandson hates it. I don’t know what else to say except to stick up for your son every chance you can. I also wonder how that teacher can do this day after day?

    • 6 weeks on Tuck Everlasting?! And that’s how readicide happens. I’d hate Tuck Everlasting too if I had to spend 6 weeks reading a book that ought to take a reader a few days max. And I feel for the teacher, I really do, because that classroom is miserable for him as well. Of course, he’s the only one who can change what’s happening, and first there has to be a realization that there IS another way.

  10. You are breaking my heart. I don’t know what to say that you haven’t already. It makes me want to scoop him up and save him with some really good ninja books, or whatever his heart desires. There is so much out there for young readers, it is malpractice! The stories you hear make me so angry I can hardly breathe. The good news, and it is very good news, is that he has you to come home to.

    • And little does he know that we’re still going to be having bedtime read-aloud when he’s a senior in high school. I am NEVER giving that up! Not even if I have to sit outside his closed bedroom door and read aloud in stentorian tones so he can hear me through his headphones! I am trying to figure out how I might help his future reading teachers. I am tired of suffering in silence through all sorts of learning and education malpractice, but as one parent, I’m not sure what to do that won’t backfire!

      • LOL! He has no choice but to love literature with you around! I don’t know the solution for other teachers. Thinking… slipping them books? Send copies of Book Love as Christmas presents?

  11. Reblogged this on Inclusive Early Literacy and commented:
    Yes, just yes. This kind of schooling is killing the joy of reading, and doing a disservice to everything we as literacy educators, teachers, librarians and parents hold dear in terms of educating our children to be thoughtful, literate human beings.

  12. Argh! I drew lines between things my kids found annoying and things that actually prevented them from learning. My older son became an independent reader sometime at the end of 2nd grade, and it was a HUGE battle to keep his love of books alive despite all the school could do to kill that. I saw a child who loved literature, was beginning to transition from shared reading to solo reading, who found phonics baffling but managed an above-grade-level sight vocabulary (apparently by noticing the shapes of words rather than letters, as his spelling showed), who was an avid consumer of audio books and loved read alouds from picture books through high level texts. They saw a boy who couldn’t pass the nonsense reading words test.

    I would speed read his required texts in about two minutes and then spend the rest of our reading time on real books. Later on he would get bad grades in reading logs because he was reading about a book a day and he wasn’t always near his folder to record the start & stop times. So now we are not a grade-obsessed family, because if getting good grades means learning less then you are doing it wrong.

    • I love the idea of drawing the line between annoying things and things that prevent learning. That would still keep me very busy intervening in my son’s education! Thanks for sharing your experiences. It really is a huge battle to nurture a love of reading when most of our children’s schools seem determined to destroy that. I believe in school–I’ve spent my whole life there after all–but wow, so much of what we do in school gets in the way of learning. My son is currently grade-obsessed and unwilling to take the zeros that I would gladly request for him. Maybe someday! He is so proud when he gets good grades (he’s an ELL student and a struggling reader), and I want to share his enthusiasm and support his interest, but…. those good grades are sometimes coming at the expense of critical thinking, learning, and engagement!

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  15. I’m only reading this for the first time. I hope things are some better, and that you may have been able to get a change made for your son. I have a son in his first year in college, but I can’t even begin to tell you all the heartache I lived through with him during his years in (late) middle school and high school… and all as a result of some of the practices you and other commenters have described. I grinned at your idea of buying the teachers Donalyn Miller’s books, as I actually did buy my son’s sophomore English teacher the book I Read It, But I Don’t Get It, by Cris Tovani… but I chickened out before I could give it to her.

    You (unfortunately) are not alone! Thank you for writing so frankly about such a difficult and heart-wrenching experience.

    • Clearly this post hit a nerve for many teachers and readers. It saddens me that school is destroying the love so many children and adolescents have for reading. I would like to see teachers who have vibrant literate lives, who filter all of their curricular choices through their own practices as readers and writers, who are required in their teacher education programs to read and understand research about reading instruction, and who are trusted by their administrators to develop curriculum and teach it. I fear I’ve got an uphill battle ahead of me for the next 7 years. Thank you for visiting my bog and commenting!

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