Thursday, October 7, 2010

7 easy steps for teachers to KILL READING!!!

Here are some great tips on how to kill any love of reading or meaning making for our students...Jennie

1.  Quantify their reading assignments
2.  Make them write reports
3.  Isolate them
4.  Focus on skills
5.  Offer them incentives
6.  Prepare them for tests
7.  Restrict their choices


Fall 2010 -- vol. 100, no. 1

How to Create Nonreaders - Reflections on Motivation, Learning, and Sharing Power
By Alfie Kohn
1.  Quantify their reading assignments.  Nothing contributes to a student’s interest in (and proficiency at) reading more than the opportunity to read books that he or she has chosen.  But it’s easy to undermine the benefits of free reading.  All you need to do is stipulate that students must read a certain number of pages, or for a certain number of minutes, each evening.  When they’re told how much to read, they tend to just “turn the pages” and “read to an assigned page number and stop,” says Christopher Ward Ellsasser, a California high school teacher.[2]  And when they’re told how long to read – a practice more common with teachers of younger students -- the results are not much better.  As Julie King, a parent, reports, “Our children are now expected to read 20 minutes a night, and record such on their homework sheet.  What parents are discovering (surprise) is that those kids who used to sit down and read for pleasure -- the kids who would get lost in a book and have to be told to put it down to eat/play/whatever -- are now setting the timer…and stopping when the timer dings. . . . Reading has become a chore, like brushing your teeth.”

2.  Make them write reports.  Jim DeLuca, a middle school teacher, summed it up:  “The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read.  Some teachers use log sheets on which the students record their starting and finishing page for their reading time.  Other teachers use book reports or other projects, which are all easily faked and require almost no reading at all.  In many cases, such assignments make the students hate the book they have just read, no matter how they felt about it before the project.”

3.  Isolate them.  I’ve been in the same book group for 25 years.  We read mostly fiction, both classic and contemporary, at the rate of almost a book a month.  I shudder to think how few novels I would have read over that period, and how much less pleasure (and insight) I would have derived from those I did manage to read, without the companionship of my fellow readers.  Subscribers to this journal are probably familiar with literature circles and other ways of helping students to create a community of readers.  You’d want to avoid such innovations – and have kids read (and write) mostly on their own -- if your goal were to cause them to lose interest in what they’re doing.

4.  Focus on skills.  Children grow to love reading when it’s about making meaning, when they’re confronted directly by provocative ideas, compelling characters, delicious prose.  But that love may never bloom if all the good stuff is occluded by too much attention to the machinery – or, worse, the approved vocabulary for describing that machinery.  Knowing the definition of dramatic irony or iambic pentameter has the same relationship to being literate that memorizing the atomic weight of nitrogen has to doing science.  When I look back on my brief career teaching high school English, I think I would have been far more successful had I asked a lot fewer questions that have only one correct answer.  I should have helped the kids to dive headfirst into the realm of metaphor rather than wasting their time on how a metaphor differs from a simile.  “School teaches that literacy is about a set of skills, not a way to engage a part of the world,” as Eliot Washor and his colleagues recently wrote.  “Consequently, many young people come to associate reading with schooling rather than with learning more about what interests them.”

5.  Offer them incentives.  Scores of studies have confirmed that rewards tend to lead people to lose interest in whatever they had to do to snag them.  This principle has been replicated with many different populations (across genders, ages, and nationalities) and with a variety of tasks as well as different kinds of inducements (money, A’s, food, and praise, to name four).[5]  You may succeed in getting students to read a book by dangling a reward in front of them for doing so, but their interest in reading, per se, is likely to evaporate – or, in the case of kids who have little interest to begin with, is unlikely to take root -- because you’ve sent the message that reading is something one wouldn’t want to do.  (Duh.  If it was fun, why would they be bribing me to do it?)  Elaborate commercial programs (think Accelerated Reader or Book It!) may be the most efficient way to teach kids that reading isn’t pleasurable in its own right, but ordinary grades will do just as well in a pinch.  As far as I can tell, every single study that has examined grades and intrinsic motivation has found that the former has a negative effect on the latter.

6.  Prepare them for tests.  Just as a teacher’s grade can be every bit as effective at killing motivation as imported incentive programs, so a teacher’s quiz can hold its own against your state’s standardized exam.  It’s not the test itself that does the damage; it’s what comes before.  Heidegger said that life is lived toward – informed by and in anticipation of – death (Sein zum Tode).  By analogy, a classroom where learning is always pointed to a test (Lernen zum Examen?) is one where ideas, and the act of reading, are experienced as just so many means to an end.  That, of course, is exactly the same effect that rewards create, so if your classroom is one that emphasizes tests and grades, the damage is effectively doubled.  And if those tests and grades are mostly focused on memorizing facts and mastering mechanical skills, well, you’ve won the Triple Crown at creating a roomful of nonreaders.

7.  Restrict their choices.  Teachers have less autonomy these days than ever before.  The predominant version of school reform, with its emphasis on “accountability” and its use of very specific curriculum standards enforced by tests, proceeds from the premise that teachers need to be told what, and how, to teach.  At the same time, this movement confuses excellence with uniformity (“All students in ninth grade will . . . “) and with mere difficulty (as if that which is more “rigorous” were necessarily better).  It’s now reaching its apotheosis with an initiative to impose the same core standards on every public school classroom in the nation.  This effort has been sponsored primarily by corporate executives, politicians, and test manufacturers, but, shamefully, certain education organizations, including NCTE, have failed to take a principled stand in opposition.  Instead, they have eagerly accepted whatever limited role in the design of standards they’re permitted by the corporate sponsors, thereby giving the impression that this prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach to schooling enjoys legitimacy and the support of educators.

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