No More Language Arts and Crafts

I’ll admit that I hold my children’s teachers to a higher than reasonable standard. Would you want my kid in your English class? As a parent, I could be a burr in your saddle. I get that.

I’m not a harassing parent, I promise. Most of my children’s teachers have no idea who I am, other than Celeste and Sarah’s mom. That’s how it should be.

On the other hand, my children’s teachers don’t know who Penny Kittle is. They don’t know who Kristin Ziemke is. They don’t know who Kelly Gallagher is.

Heck, my children’s teachers don’t know who Nancie Atwell and Lucy Calkins are. It doesn’t matter if they’ve read my books about teaching reading, but it does matter when my children’s teachers haven’t read a book or article about teaching reading in 20 years.

A line divides parents who know a lot about reading and their children’s less-knowledgeable teachers. What can we teacher-parents do when our children have poor reading instruction at school? I may not have my own classroom this year, but this reading war front line cuts across my lawn. It stretches across my dining room table—limiting and defining my children’s reading lives.

My oldest granddaughter, Emma, spends an hour and a half at our house every morning and afternoon. My husband walks Emma to first grade. We help her with homework. Celeste, my older daughter, joked with us last week, “Andrew and I don’t think we’re are going to have to worry about Emma’s reading log all year. It’s always filled out when we pick her up.”

Of course, I’m going to read with her. You can bet your tail feathers that I will monitor my grand baby’s reading homework.

Emma has a reading log. Each day, she’s supposed to read for 20 minutes. We record the book titles for what she reads and sign Emma’s log. Kids with unsigned reading logs receive consequences at school. Emma’s vague on what happens because her log is always signed.

the troublemakerLast week, Emma and I re-read three outstanding wordless picture books, Flashlight by Lizi Boyd, The Troublemaker by Lauren Castillo, and Molly Idle’s Flora and the Flamingo, a 2014 Caldecott Honor Book. Filling out her reading log, Emma said, “We can’t write those books down, Mimi. We didn’t read any words.”

These books are standouts—amazing pieces of storytelling. Award-deserving. Emma recommends them, too.

Sadly, they’re not reading log worthy.

Somewhere in Texas, on a first grade teacher’s desk, sits a reading log with my signature on it. I have publicly denounced reading logs for a decade, but I still sign one every night for my granddaughter. I feel the injustice every time I hold the pen.

And the world spins madly on.

Our younger daughter, Sarah, is a high school sophomore this year. Sarah is a reader. Well, Sarah was a reader. Her dad and I hope she will be a reader in the future. She doesn’t read much any more. Burdened with pointless assignments for English class, Sarah doesn’t have time to read or write at home. Her English teacher doesn’t give Sarah and her classmates time to read or write at school, either.

Sarah is in the gifted and talented program. She’s an International Baccalaureate student. She takes an advanced English course. Sarah’s first project this year? Make a collage about The Beast from The Lord of the Flies. Her second project? On the corners of a tissue box, share your hopes, dreams, fears, and personal creed. I guess Sarah’s teacher needed Kleenex.

Sarah told us that the kids didn’t even share their boxes with each other. They just stacked their boxes on a table. That’s where kids’ hopes and dreams belong—in the back of the room.

Two weeks into school, and Sarah still hasn’t read a book or visited the school library with her class. The Lord of the Flies was assigned for summer reading.

Last week, Sarah’s teacher launched a discussion about “why reading matters” and “what makes a book worthy.” She lectured the class for an hour about literary merit. She never asked students to contribute their opinions about the importance of reading and the value of books. What could Sarah and her classmates possibly know about reading? She’s the teacher. She knows why reading matters.

It’s clear that my children’s teachers value school-based definitions of reading. Reading matters outside of school, too. I’m glad Emma and Sarah learned this at home, but what about the kids who don’t?

On Facebook this weekend, I invited friends to share the worst reading assignments they’ve seen as students, parents, and teachers. In many cases, our children complete the same boring, teacher-directed reading assignments we did 30 years ago. Putting low-level comprehension questions on iPads doesn’t improve the questions.

My Facebook query opened a floodgate. Dioramas, book reports, paragraph and chapter summaries, Accelerated Reader quizzes—teachers confessed to assigning landslides of pointless busy work to their students. Parents bemoaned burdensome reading logs and worksheets. Librarians complained about teachers’ restrictive book selection criteria that prevent children from self-selecting books—unreasonable page limits, reading level boundaries, and narrow genre requirements.

What are children really learning from us about reading?

I’m not a perfect teacher. I’ve assigned some crummy, waste-of-time, language arts and crafts projects to my students over the years. Cereal Box Biographies, novel unit packets, and vocabulary crossword puzzles—my students churned out a lot of mindless work. It finally occurred to me that if I hated grading 98 cereal boxes, my students hated making them.

I’m still learning how to be a better teacher. I’ve missed a lot of chances to connect my students with reading. I’ve created negative reading experiences in my classroom. I didn’t know what I know now. I learned. I grew. I evolved. I improved. I was a novice teacher once, but I’m not new any more. When you know better, you do better. No excuses.

Celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2nd can’t offset a year of reading logs and book reports. Our children must spend more time reading than they spend completing reading-related activities. Generating grades shouldn’t drive teaching decisions. Our children must develop positive reading identities. Worksheets don’t value readers or reading. Children should not become readers in spite of school.

At some point, ignorance becomes a choice. When teachers reject evidence-based teaching practices in favor of outdated traditions, it’s a choice. When parents endure the disrespectful, useless reading work our children bring home, it’s a choice.

Share what you know. Learn as much as you can. Build relationships. When we remain silent—afraid to rock the boat, offend a teacher, or question an administrator, it’s a choice. What choices do our children have?

We must advocate for children’s reading lives, or they won’t have reading lives.

If we don’t speak up, too many children will make the only reading choice they have left. They will choose not to read.

*** Note added on September 14, 2014.**

The response to this post has been overwhelming. While most of the comments I have received in person, through Twitter and Facebook, and here on the blog have been positive, a few have been hateful and derisive–including curse words, cruel remarks about my children, and personal attacks–which I have chosen not to approve on the blog or respond to elsewhere. I cannot possibly restate everything that I have written and spoken over the years about meaningful reading instruction in a single blog post. I cannot summarize decades of reading research, either. What I can do is respond to specific questions or remarks.

Yes, I know that reading wordless books doesn’t provide my granddaughter the same skill development that decoding words does. What wordless books offer is practice generating stories by inferring visual cues from the illustrations. This is higher-level thinking–valuable for young readers to practice.

It bothers me that my granddaughter is learning in first grade that some types of reading “count” and some don’t.

Reading logs do not hold children and parents accountable for reading home. Reading logs hold children and parents accountable for filling out reading logs.

I am not against the arts. I am not against artistic expression in language arts class. I believe that inviting children to choose how they want to respond to a text is better than assigning the same project to everyone. Students should spend the majority of language arts class reading, writing, and discussing reading and writing. I believe writing is art and reading is art appreciation. We must be critical of activities that crowd the Ianguage arts out of language arts classes.

I do not think I am better than other teachers. I admit in this post that I have made mistakes and continue to learn. Reading professional books and articles, attending conferences, joining Twitter chats. attending PLC meetings, talking with colleagues, enrolling in courses–I invest substantial time learning from OTHER teachers. I am grateful for the vast learning community of colleagues who teach me every day. Like many of you, I know that being a good teacher demands investment in my personal learning.

I appreciate the many parents and professional colleagues who have engaged in meaningful discourse about this post over the past week. I look forward to learning more from you.

132 responses to “No More Language Arts and Crafts

  1. Well said! You don’t know it but I’m giving you a standing ovation. It makes me sick to discover that teachers have never heard of Kittle, Calkins, Routman, Collins, Taberski, Miller (Debbie and Donalyn), and others. I hope your message gets out. I know I will sing it loud and clear.

  2. Donalyn,
    I read this post shaking my head yes in agreement the whole time. I am a high school English teacher and parent, and I see the same thing. My 9th graders read independently every day I see them (I see them 4 out of 6 days for one hour each time). I give them choice and time, which I know is key. I do read alouds with everything from classic novels to picture books. Last year, my 9th graders read 384,904 pages! I’m proud of their accomplishments, but after 9th grade they will never do that again. The other teachers in my department think what I am doing is a “waste of time.” They tried to get my principal to put an end to my program, but thankfully I have her support. I share countless articles with them that prove the benefits of IR, but they don’t want to read them. I know I’ll keep sharing what I have learned and never give up, for I see the results with my own eyes. I can only hope my own children don’t get teachers like them. My children are readers now, and I hope that doesn’t change.

  3. Yeah, I would be very nervous to have your children in my class, only because I respect you so much and wouldn’t want to disappoint :). I am required to do reading logs in Kinder (it’s on our walk-through checklist). I hate it. I hate that kids are more focused on counting pages than the story. But I can only fight the power so much. Unfortunately there are many missed opportunities for creating excitement for reading out there. I’m glad you are bringing attention to it.

  4. I don’t usually assign reading logs…but here is the catch, I’m a middle of the road person and believe in moderation, some students and the families that support them WOULD not carve out time or make reading a priority if there was not a grade attached. So, yes, I assign reading logs sometimes on a child to child basis or class to class basis. And you know, some of them begin to read nightly, because part of their grade depends on it, and then catch the love of reading. Some, sadly, still see reading as a chore. As the responsible adult, I have to make the hard decision of holding them accountable, somehow. Of course what students read is up to them…unless of course they consistently make ‘bad’ reading choices. Then again, as the responsible adult, I will assign a a book. Sometimes children really want that extra help and guidance and, before long, they are able to tentatively choose books on their own. This would not have happened if I had not chosen for them. I am in agreement with Mrs. Miller but do want to feel validated for the times when I assign reading logs or books. I have read all the resources she mentioned in her article. I welcome all comments. Thank you!

    • I am in the same boat you are in with the reading logs. I conference with students all the time, but some need that extra “push” to read at home. I don’t even assign homework. They just have to keep up with their reading log. All they have to do is write down the title, page numbers, time, and have their parents sign it. If there is a better way to do it, I’m all for it though.

  5. I too am offering a standing ovation. I’m so tired of hearing…. “But how can we hold them accountable?” Conversations with your students,people! The beauty of conferencing!!!

  6. Donalyn, I am a new reading teacher. I’ve spent the last 3 years of my teaching career teaching math and science, but I changed teaching assignments and now I am teaching 4th grade reading. To be honest, I am more passionate about teaching reading that I am teaching math and science, so I am very excited to be teaching reading this year. A fellow reading teacher recommended your book, and I am so so glad that I read your book before the school year began. I’m sure my kids would be doing cereal box projects too. I am now reading your second book, and absolutely love it. Since reading your book, we have done away with AR in the 4th grade! I am trying to encourage reading at home, so I never assign homework to my students. I tell them reading is their homework. Because of this, I have resorted to reading logs, which I don’t like, but I need something tangible to grade. Do you have any other alternative suggestions for this? Thank you so much!

  7. I teach science to middle school students and know of and have read many of the names you talk about. It frustrates me that so many of my colleagues do not take professional development seriously. Even in science, students need to talk and make meaning, determine what is important and practice and act like real scientists. Thanks for the thought provoking blog.

  8. Except the reading logs are a forced requirement from our district. A list where both kids and parents lie about the reading they do. Very sad.

    • Reading logs do not hold kids and parents accountable for reading. Reading logs hold kids and parents accountable for filing out reading logs. All stick. No carrot.

  9. Sad to hear about no knowledge of your books, Kittle’s, Atwell’s, Heard’s, many others, but even sadder that time-fillers, time-wasters continue. I have a grandson far from me whose school says when they choose a book to read from the library at school, they MUST read it, cannot return it to find another until done. He doesn’t check out books anymore, relies on home & the public library, but they don’t require the reading either. Last year, in 7th grade, they took the first 8 weeks reading Tuck Everlasting! I love the book, but! So sad about this! You said it exactly right, Donalyn!

    • I work at a literacy workshop-focused school that does know Lucy Calkins. And there are still level limits, sight word flash cards and spelling tests in K-1, and reading logs; much of this is embedded within the program or defended because of tests. The reading “exit level” for each grade has increased by 2-3 levels over 6 years, even tho there’s always a developmental spectrum of kids. In this heightened, test-focused environment, I fear most teachers will not “learn from their teaching” in the ways you describe and have been a hallmark of my career. Tough to watch!

  10. I never require reading logs (4th grade) for exactly the reasons you have written about. Sometimes parents ask about them at conferences, as though they are reminding me of an important thing I have forgotten to do. They seem relieved when I explain, but some seem as though they’re not getting the full education program their child deserves. LOL!

  11. As always, you nail it Donalyn! Here is the litmus test we should use as educators when planning: As readers, what do we do to make reading meaningful? What makes me want to keep reading, to pick up a new book, to dig into it, to talk about it with others? With that frame of reference, then start planning. I keep a book log, but it’s on goodreads so I can connect with other readers and I like to keep track of what I am reading because I can no longer remember every book I read! Bottom line make it authentic.

  12. Thank you so much for validating a lot of what I am trying to do. This year I am teaching 7-9 ELA. My school is so small that I am now responsible for all of the ELA instruction for these grades and I’m feeling the pressure. The pressure is not from my school administration, it’s pressure that I feel in preparing these precious students for the world that awaits them. I want them to be as prepared as much as I can possibly prepare them. I only get them 50-55 minutes 5 days a week and right now I don’t see how I can get it all done. My bellringer is 10-15 precious minutes of reading and it breaks my heart that I have to make them stop (they even beg me to let them keep reading). I don’t have to take my students to the library because my room looks like a library and is stocked with the books my students have requested (mostly funded by me). Please point me in the direction of inspiration and concrete methods, procedures and ideas that can be implemented in 40 minutes or less a week because my “babies” HAVE to have to have time to read at school.

  13. OMG! How about the SAME books I was FORCED to read in Honors English my SENIOR year in …….. Wait for it………..1972??????!!!!!!! I told my son The Scarlet Letter hasn’t changed since then and it will STILL be dull & boring. As is Pride and Prejudice, War & Peace, and all those other dusty, outdated CLASSICS that have NOTHING to do with today’s teenagers and their world. A step-by-step recipe GUARANTEED to kill ANYONES love of reading.

  14. Reading this makes me heartsick, although I am not surprised. I know teachers who have taught the same thing for 25 years. Same vocab tests, same stories, same everything. Nothing has changed. I’m pretty sure they haven’t heard of Kittle, Gallagher and the rest either (mostly because they ignore everything I try to share)

  15. I did not use reading logs last year or the year before. However, I am using them this year. Naturally, my goal is independent reading and love of literature, but with more than one class of ELA, I feel like this will help me know what they’re reading ( and yes, we do talk) and it will allow the parents to peruse (at most) what they’re reading. I do not give consequences if they don’t do it. Maybe, I will reconsider! I want to do what is best for readers.
    * Donalyn….you are held in high esteem by me!

    • You know your students and their families, best, Maridee. Keep an eye on those logs, though. Many kids log pages and minutes forever and don’t red many books.

  16. What I would suggest rather than reading logs is observation and conversation. I know if my students are reading at home because they’re finishing books, asking for more books, talking about books, recommending books to each other and to me. Reading logs can’t substitute for the work we have to do in the classroom to build a culture of reading and to do the real work of teaching, which is about watching our students, talking to our students, knowing our students. Why don’t we ask our students to do what we as readers do? I certainly keep a list of books I’ve finished, but I have never logged the time I spend reading or shown such a log to anyone else.

    • I really like this suggestion. My concern with my own young reader is he has all that down, but what he doesn’t have is consistent handwriting. Should he be responding to the reading he enjoys in writing to improve where he DOES struggle?

  17. Your honesty – and, yes, courage – pleases me. The reluctance of K-12 teachers to listen about research and theory, let alone read it, depresses me and has for many years.

  18. I feel a bit like the character from Foreman’s Fortunately, Unfortunately picture book. Fortunately, I shared your work and Kittle’s and Gallagher’s and Allen’s and Atwell’s and Rief’s and Kajder’s and Pilgreen’s and Allington’s in an EdCamp session I facilitated yesterday. Unfortunately, today I blogged about students’ summer reading collages as part of a series I’m doing on Sundays. Talk about timing. I’d like to think that you would not see mere language arts and crafts in my IB and AP classroom were you to visit. We do occasionally craft though, we use it to think creatively, to connect and explore. I use the output to assess students comprehension, writing and thinking skills. We sometimes craft. Never as much as we read–in class and at home. Never as much as we write–in class and at home. I found myself wondering how you would take our collage assignment. I too have signed my share of reading logs. Being a teacher parent, especially a passionate teacher parent is hard. I chose to give my son’s teachers professional books and to forward conference opportunities to them via email. I volunteered. I offered to work with teachers. Change has been slow. Like you, most do not know my book or work. The tone of your post reminds me of what one of my teacher friends calls “interrogate the teacher”–something she does each fall. I have to admit, it put me on edge, but it also makes me think you are fueled up to write. Good thing. We need your voice pushing us to examine what is right for readers.

    • I don’t think creating crafts is the issue. It’s creating crafts that crowd out reading and writing time. It’s creating crafts for grades–not expression or exploration. I wish I could send Sarah to your class. I really do.

    • I got tired as a classroom teacher of having my creative assignments pooh poohed as fluff. Yes there is a lot of non curriculum based fluff, but not all is. One of the best grades I got in college was from a test where we could either write an essay(another one) of draw and label and picture. I was the only one that did the drawing and it reflected more understanding of the concept then all the essays.

      • Are students given the same choice in most classrooms? Artistic expression isn’t the issue here, but is “dioramas for all” the best thing we can do?

  19. Amen! Amen! and Amen!!!


  20. I am not going to through any stones. However I couldn’t read until I was in 6th grade for the second time, I was just passed along until an out standing teacher reached into my life and tried to help. I have dyslexia but in the early 1950’s who knew what that was? Together we found a way to start making sense of words ‘phonetic spelling’ opened a new world. I read every thing, with words on it, soup cans and all.
    Reading is the most important skill that can be taught to children or adults who missed it as children. With it they can learn any other thing that they need. With out reading skills they will be utterly lost in this world that races on to one new adventure after another. Not all will be in love with the written word, information and or stories, but if they can read they can learn.

  21. I don’t understand: is the point of “language arts and crafts” not to scaffold analysis for struggling readers, to help them approach a text critically? Kylene Beers seems to think so. And while I understand storytelling as a framework context for reading skills, I don’t know why that particular skill applied to wordless books should be credited in a reading log. Yes, the story structure does help scaffold literacy skills, but it is not reading, not interpreting written words. By that token, watching a TV show would be reading–unless it is flipping pages that makes it count.

    I truly identify with the role of the teacher-parent other teachers may tire of dealing with, but I am unable to follow the logic of those specific complaints–as teacher or parent. Yes, I think school is doing its damnedest to squash the love of reading out of my first grader with niggling requirements, but I don’t see why it would be a problem to choose books with words.

    Plus I think the teacher being able to get a quick insight into 98 students’ motivation and add it to classroom decor is a perfectly fine task that doesn’t necessarily have to lead to life-changing class debate.

    • The issue isn’t the projects themselves. We have to consider how much time students spend creating projects at the expense of reading, writing, and discussion. As for the wordless books, I think that wordless books are a nice addition to a mixed reading diet. What concerns me about Emma is that she is being restricted to “what books count” for her reading log instead of reading experiences that matter to her.

  22. Every teacher, whether you are an English teacher or not, should read this. Reading is important in ALL classes. Of all the terrible ways reading is taught that she mentions, I would add one to that list that is worse than all of them and will turn a kid off to reading quicker than anything…telling them they can’t choose to read any of the books any of the groups in the class are reading because they aren’t a good enough reader and to have to sit by themselves with the teacher and work on a different, lower level book and not allow the child to challenge themselves…it happened to my son in 4th grade! Well, it somewhat happened…I demanded he be allowed to read “Iron Horse” and that we would help him at home with it…we had to fight and argue but the teacher finally caved (once we got the then principal involved) and guess what, he read 3/4 of it on his own…it took him a couple weeks longer…but he did it! Don’t ever tell a kid they can’t read something…it is a self-esteem killer and you will kill any desire they have for reading! He has started becoming more interested in reading, but it took a school change with multiple ways of reaching struggling readers, without killing their self esteem, for this to happen. We even went so far as to transfer him from the district where we live to the district where I work and the results have been remarkable!!!

  23. My husband and I are/were both teachers. He always said, “Here’s what we know. The more you read, the better you read.” He was chastised for giving up the basal readers for middle school. He complained that in a week students would have read only 4 or 5 pages. I had a principal tell me that reading aloud to my class was a waste of instructional time. Huh? AND that having my 5th graders read for half an hour in class was also wasteful because they could do that at home. These days, I am saddened that when I ask my preschoolers what story was read last night, they often tell me about a movie they watched. I am heartened when I listen to some of their creative drama and recognize vocabulary and themes of stories they’ve heard!

  24. My mother kept a log all her life of all the books she read. Next to each book, she put 1-4 stars. When she died, my sister took it and read many of the books. When I place my books on Shelfari, it is more or less like keeping a log. So, I am thinking…..are logs wrong or does it depend on what you do with the logs? I don’t use them for grades. Just wondering. The culture we build in the classroom is not diminished because we record what we are reading, does it? Appreciate feedback.

    • My students keep a reading list and I record everything in goodreads. It’s not the log, it’s the intent behind the log versus actual use.

  25. Reading in The Wild was recommended to me over the summer, so naturally I had to start with The Book Whisperer! After reading both, I threw out my nightly reading logs and only assign reading! Students and parents didn’t know what to do with only reading, so I added a small accountability piece that you can’t fake. Students record a connection, an interesting word, thought, or feeling about the text. There is no limit to the length. It can be short or as long as they want. I tell my students it’s the actual reading is what is most important and the response is just to help them remember what they want to share. When students enter the classroom in the morning they participate in a Kagan Structure, Stand up, Hand Up, Pair Up to share their thinking/reading. I circulate among the pairs listening in! More and more students are reading, and enjoying it! Books are flying off my shelves and out of my baskets! The wild reader bug is contagious! Thank you for speaking out, and for giving me the courage to follow!

    • I love this idea of sharing reading! As the librarian I struggle with making sure all 750 students in my school are self selecting appropriate books-that they can actually read or have read to them and are on self selected by them! And having them share what they read would be awesome! I do a lot of Think Pair Share as an activating strategy and your idea would work so well!

  26. Reblogged this on A Teaching Life and commented:
    Wise words from Donalyn Miller:

  27. Word searches in a high school intensive reading class. Students with dyslexia love nothing more than to search for meaningless words diagonal and backwards in a sea of letters.

  28. Reblogged this on My So-Called Literacy Life and commented:
    Wise words from Donalyn Miller, who is not afraid to write what many of us feel. We can do better. We must do better.

  29. Thank you for finding the brilliant words to say what we are all feeling!

  30. I am an elementary librarian, but in my former life, I was a middle school English teacher who made my fair share of “crafty” assignments. Now, I am doing my best to lead a crusade in my building against the reading log and FOR books. Reading and dialogue are enough for kids. Thank you for helping to make meaningful changes for my children and their future children!

  31. how does what they are doing fit with common core? I guess that is why we have it – to make schools think about what they are doing? I’m happy to report as a late-comer to teaching (I certified at 50 yo), the internship program at University of Bridgeport prepared me well – but then again, Connecticut is known for its high standards. We feel the pressure – but when the professional training is there – and of course teacher passion… the pressure turns into successful readers.

  32. I have been teaching for 31 years and still read everything I can get my hands on both professionally and teen novels. How can I teach reading and writing to my 8th graders in a way that matches the way today’s kids learn if I don’t know what experts are saying? I may not always agree, but new ideas cause me to re-evaluate what I’m doing to find the best way that works.
    How can I recommend good books to students if I don’t read. Does it take time? Yep. Does it pay off? More than you’ll ever know.

  33. Yes…excellent, excellent article. I completely agree that reading should not be turned into an arts and craft response. One thing, though….as a reader, I record the books I read using a reading log (Goodreads) to remember what I read and to recommend books to others. So, as long as a log isn’t used to reward/punish, I’m all for keeping a simple record of your reading.

    • I log all of my reading in goodreads, too. I do this by choice. I set up my goodreads shelves the way I wanted. Logging pages and minutes doesn’t hold kids accountable for reading. They don’t prove kids read anything. What’s the goal?

  34. Because I finally read your books this summer, I am an enlightened teacher. My students are reading every day. They can’t wait to give book commercials. And now my colleagues all know who Donalyn Miller is. You are changing things. Believe me!

  35. Michelle Ferries

    Last summer, while helping my sister run her garage sale, I met a high school English teacher who was pouring over the book boxes we had displayed. She wanted to purchase books for her classroom library because she thought it was important for kids to self select their reading. We spoke for almost an hour and I told her to please take whatever she wanted, no charge. I also asked her to please work with other high school English teachers and share her experiences. My nephew was a huge reader before he started high school. Like your daughter, he is in advanced classes and, while he is “reading” he has a required number of annotations for each page of every book he reads. The books are all assigned. As a result, he has stopped reading for pleasure. I hope he will pick it up again, but I doubt it will be during his high school years. Thanks for the article. Can we make it required reading? 😉

  36. as a kindergarten teacher i love our language curriculum!! it all contributes to reading: a book walk, a read aloud, a word search, repeating pattern books, self selected reading…enacting the very hungry caterpillar…rich conversation and learning new words..reading a poem together on a chart that is colour coded to help memory..environmental print in the class like cheerio boxes, or a carton of MILK……seeing their little faces light up when they get to the end of their first “i did it” picture book. we are required and encouraged to attend prof development related to kindergarten and reading. love love love it!!

  37. I remember taking the art of teaching reading with Lucy Calkins as a TC grad student. She asked all of us, very early on, when the last time was we made a diorama after finishing a novel we read. (As you might expect, none of us had!) Then she implored us to never assign projects like that. What do good readers do when they finish a great book? They talk about it with other readers or they write about it.
    Thank you for this post, Donalyn. It is SO important to remember that we need to use our voices to speak out for positive changes.

  38. Beyond Frustrated

    Please tell us what you would like to see in your children’s classes.

    • I have explored this topic in my published work over the years both online and in print. I did not want to retread old ground here. I also hoped that colleagues would chime in with their experiences through their comments, which they have. Best practices research provides a guide. Children must spend the majority of ELAR class time reading, writing, and engaging in meaningful discourse. Homework should be more reading and writing.

  39. Oh, lady! We SO agree on this, especially that bit about advanced classes and the lack of reading lives in so many capable and willing students. So many lost moments with children who given the right opportunities will change the world. Just imagine if they read more (or at all)?

  40. I’ve loved this conversation. When my daughter was in high school, her best reading experiences came from an international studies history class with a reading list. I loved seeing her reading life come alive again because she got to CHOOSE what to read from that list.
    Just retired, but I’m sharing this with my former colleagues.

  41. This really made me think about my current practices. Although I do not assign crafts, I am required to assign a reading log and reading responses. I’ve already spent the first 3 weeks entrenching the nightly process, tweaking it so my students will be responsible middle-schoolers next year. It always feels like the cops and robbers game. I’ve decided on an alternative to the reading logs. Thanks for reminding me to hold myself to a higher than reasonable standard!

  42. The worst part of teaching reading now is that we are supposed to have kids dissecting everything to the tiniest molecule calling it “close reading” or “accountable talk” or “higher level thinking.” If we just let them read, read, read all that happens. We’re taking the beauty and joy out of reading and our readers will become LESS competent readers as a result. The “reformers” also changed the reading levels so that many children are “below” reading level before they are out of kindergarten(especially in NYC where the cutoff for K is 12/31 so they enter school at 4). If we followed developmental stages, and work with students where they are, they go through the stages and build understanding and critical thinking on the books they are on. I hate handing a child books they cannot read and going through “close reading” routines. Then saying they are “below grade level” when students 5 years ago were “on level” when they read the same books. 3rd graders are tested on state tests with long passages that are levels above, then the state moans that the students are failing and the teachers are the cause.The kids aren’t failing, the system is.

  43. Pingback: How schools kill the love of reading | T.L. Knighton

  44. I’m one of the lucky ones. I couldn’t answer your Facebook prompt as I think I have had only one really terrible English teacher over my whole academic career, and she assigned homework, but I think a T.A. (her niece, I later found out) did all the corrections. I once wrote a really lame essay comparing friendship to a pipeline… this was my freshman year of college. Spent 10 minutes on it, and my mom got mad because she said I wasn’t trying hard enough. I said, just you wait until I get my grade back next week.

    I got an A.

    She also kept teaching us the wrong meanings for suffixes. If we’d had smartphones at the time, I’m sure we could have proven her wrong. The classroom actually had 0 books in it–not even a dictionary.

    I love reading, and can name you almost every reading teacher I ever had back to first grade… They encouraged me to read, not just what was assigned or what “counted”. They encouraged us to write and discuss. I do still have my reading logs from freshman year of high school, and mostly I keep them to remember which Ellery Queen novels I’ve already read (I *think* I’ve read them all). That’s the only year I ever remember having to log my reading. We had to write a journal entry about our reading once a week, as well as a journal entry about life in general. Mrs. H and/or her student teachers would respond on Post-Its. (Yes, I still have all of those things, too.)

    But I also think I might be a bad example for all this–I’ve loved reading since I was three. If anything, the challenge is to get me to stop so that I can do other things, like sleep, or shower and go to work.

  45. Fantastic post! I’m blown away by how ill prepared many teachers are to help instill a love of reading with our children. I cringe every time I hear about a child doing a book report, making a diorama or doing an AR test.

  46. I kept seeing common core getting blamed for these projects last year. Ugh. It not only was awful for my son, but the projects made school in general a terrible parent/child experience.

  47. Just came to Ca for a visit. My grandson’s teacher read “David Comes to School” four days in a row. My daughter says she has no books. My grandson has brought packets home where he has to trace letters until he told his mom his hand hurts. I am not sure what he is suppose to do with the high frequency word list he brought home.

    I taught for 30 years working as a teacher coach for ten. Cambourne, Calkins, Graves, Mooney, and more were my teachers. The education my grandchildren are getting breaks my heart but guess what – my grandson loves school. His parents read him tons of books daily , he was writing, publishing, and selling his books to all our family Christmas. His literacy is engrained. He knows what a reader and writer does in real life. So my daughter says as long as he is happy they will live with it.

    And I brought the kindergarten teacher tons of books. It is amazing the great titles I found at used book stores. I am going to offer to show the teacher how to launch reader and writer workshop but I am not going to ask her
    Why she is asking 5 year old to trace letter or maybe I will if it comes up. I will offer to put poems and songs on charts and menition that the kids will learn high frequency words by reading the poems and songs.

    And I will remember how difficult it is to be a classroom teacher and know you are not doing the right things for kids but it is what you are told to do and what all the other teachers are doing – it is almost impossible to change when you don’t have a firm philosophy of what literacy experiences would have the most impact on your students.

    As for reading logs, I read my students book reviews from the newspaper and internet. I told them they could write short reviews, rate the book with stars, and Hang them close to the books. The reviews can help other students chose their next books. (The employees at Powell’s Book Store in Portland, Oregon write reviews like this and I always read them when I am looking for books)

  48. Your post rang so true that I talked to my Assistant Principal about it today. Wise words that need to be said!

  49. I’m a librarian in an elementary school and I called a teacher a “Book Nazi” the other day. When she came to pick up her students on their first day of library, she went down the line and pointed at the student book choices saying “No, no, no….” I couldn’t hold my tongue! “What are you doing? These are their choices! Stop being a book Nazi!” I get having them pick a book they can read. That’s why they can get 5 books. Don’t disregard their choices. Burns me up just thinking of it!

    • Meg, I agree with you about students choosing their books and thank you for standing up for them, but I have a friendly suggestion from one educator to another: There could be a better word choice in this situation than “Nazi.” Please think twice before comparing someone who restricts book choices to someone who murders Jews and others. That word is tossed around a lot in a way that minimizes what happened during the Holocaust. I used to do the same thing until, thankfully, someone called my attention to it. Some people find this offensive and you might not even realize it. Thanks for listening.

  50. Jennifer Buehler

    You are a gem and a gift to our profession.

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