What happens to readers between Elementary and High School?

Something I have been thinking about lately:

My husband and I take turns reading to our daughter every night before bed.  For the last for  months, I have been reading her Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which we just finished today.  She admitted that she now believes that the Harry Potter Series is  even better than The Warriors Series.   Two of her good friends are also avid fans of Potter, and they  compare notes on the books and the movies and sometimes act out scenes.  When I volunteer in her fourth grade classrooms, I see kids clutching their books lovingly to their chests, I hear kids talking about books and recommending them to their friends. 

I teach high school seniors.  When I asked them about the last book they read, most couldn’t name any.  Many claimed proudly that they  hadn’t read a single book throughout high school, including the ones assigned in English Class.  When I asked why they didn’t read, one student said, “Because movies exist.”  I do have some idea of what may have happened to a love of reading and fiction they may have had in primary school.

The first problem is choice.  In my high school most teachers assign whole class novels most of the time, from the cannon.   I like to choose what I read, and it’s not always Literature.   The second problem is about what we assign with it:  annotations and essays.  I only annotate if I am teaching a text, and usually not until my second reading of it.  I keep hearing that we need to drop fiction and move to non-fiction because of the common core and relevance.  I think we need both, but we need our goal to be creating effective life-long readers, not English majors.  I don’t really have any ideas on how to change the culture around how we teach English, though I know that it is changing for the better throughout the country. 

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6 comments on “What happens to readers between Elementary and High School?

  1. @Kellylou says:

    I agree. Choice is so important. Time to read, relationships between teachers and students so that teachers know what books to put into the hands of their students that will light that love of reader, modeling a reading life… so very many factors all play into helping young people find the book that will change their minds about reading. Love your thoughts here — reminding me of books like Miller’s Book Whisperer, Atwell’s Reading Zone, and Tovani’s So What Do They Really Know? — all great texts on the reading lives of our students. 🙂

  2. Lisa says:

    I think choice is a bit part of it. I also think that people get caught up in the reading of non-fiction. Kids think that they aren’t reading because they aren’t reading novels for fun. Also, I think adults are the ones who can really keep it going for kids. I don’t necessarily mean the English teacher, either. If an aunt, a grandma, a math teacher, etc. is recommending books to kids all the time, reading becomes more social and, therefore, enticing.

  3. Yes, choice is definitely part of it! I have three high school students and only one has remained a reader, okay maybe 1 1/2 are readers. I think that another problem is the pace that they read–either too quickly or too slowly. Sometimes they have a million pages in one night so they hit up spark notes and other times, they are not allowed to read the next chapter in their book, even if they want to. We definitely need more studies that show the positive correlations between reading literature and being engaged responsible citizens–they seem to be popping up.

  4. Have you read Penny Kittle’s “Book Love”? It changed what I do in my high school classroom. I give my freshmen 10 minutes at the beginning of every class to read whatever they want. At least once a week now, they beg to read the whole class period. It truly has transformed my classroom. And kids from other classes come in for books too. Really. You have to give it a try!

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