Books, Links, Rants, School Libraries, Student stuff

My reading journey

Last week I had an upsetting exchange with two friends on Twitter that I have to share because school’s starting and this nonsense will start again.

But first, some background.  Most people know I read quite a few books in a year (I also read magazines and newspapers).  I’ve never understood people who say “I don’t read” because I’m reasonably certain they’re not actually illiterate.  What they mean is they don’t read books (or as many as I do) or they don’t read novels or something.  I also doubt those Pew surveys that say that people don’t read books after they leave college: how are they defining books?  Are they including graphic novels or audiobooks?  Anyway.

My mother has an MEd and for a few years before I entered her life, she taught Kindergarten and first grade.  She’s an incredibly smart person and yet, somehow, the idea that there were developmental differences between a toddler and one of her students didn’t quite sink in, so when I was 2 1/2 years old, she started to teach me to read by placing labels on things all over the house (so the table had a big label that said, you guessed it, table on it, etc.).  By the time I was in Kindergarten I was reading above my age group so my teacher gave me additional reading; when we moved from Ohio to Central New York, it was clear that between that and my father’s teaching me basic math (and my grandfather teaching me cursive!) first grade would be boring, so I moved up to second grade.  Dad used to read to me, really bringing his favorite childhood stories to life with voices and inflections; when I was seven, he started <i>Treasure Island</i> and for some reason never got through the last few chapters – to this day, I don’t know how things end.  He’s still around and I live in hope he’ll finish.

The next year, a babysitter gave me her old Nancy Drews and I read <i>The Clue in the Dancing Puppet</i> one night – it gave me my one and only wake up screaming nightmare.  My parents suggested that perhaps I not read any more of those. At nine, I read <i>The Hobbit</i> and by ten I’d read <i>The Lord of the RIngs</i>.  Then we moved to Geneva and I discovered Enid Blyton and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer… and Victoria Holt’s <i>The Mistress of Mellyn</i>.  My school librarian realized I was a reader, but when I concentrated on the Blytons and rediscovered Nancy Drew, she spoke with my mother about how I could be reading better (or more difficult, or something like that) books.  Mom apparently told her I was fine.

Back in the US, in eighth grade, two things happened.  The first was we spent part of our year in English doing minicourses.  Somehow, I didn’t get my first three choices so they put me in a speed reading class.  At the start of the class we took some test to determine our starting speed and I tested at 1000wpm.  The teacher left me alone after that.  The second was a standardized test that determined your reading level, and for some reason we graded each other’s tests before the teacher asked “how many got xx wrong? you’re reading at y level. how many got xx-1 wrong? you’re reading at y+1 level” etc.  She stopped when they got to those who had 10 wrong, then counted.  After double counting, she asked who was missing… and the person grading my test said, “Laura got none wrong” which apparently meant I was reading at a college or above level.

None of this made a difference to my reading – I read what I wanted, when I wanted.  Rereading things like <i>Mistress of Mellyn</i> as a later teen made me realize how much of that book I’d missed at age 10.  As an adult, I read a wide range of books, from picture books to learned tomes.  I’m not saying this as a humblebrag, just as information.  And over the past few years, I’ve been increasingly grateful that back in the 60s and 70s we didn’t have programs like AR and F&P, and no one cared about lexiles.  I’m astoundingly unatheletic, nor am I interested in crafts like scrapbooking.  If I’d been born in the 90s or later, who knows how my teachers and librarians might have killed my love of reading and how unhappy I’d be with nothing but tv or videos to keep me occupied.

So, with all that as background, here’s part of the conversation last week:

Um, excuse me?  Please tell me this was misheard, or misunderstood.

And here’s Angie, with the perfect response.

We have some amazing readers at my school.  Last year, one high school student borrowed a bunch of classics (including <i>Moby Dick</i>, which was handed back with a DNF comment) as well as the latest in YA.  Imagine if we’d said that something was above or below her AR level or Lexile level?  It’s not just about the incredible waste of money paying for these programs, nor the time spent managing the programs.  It’s about loving reading and encouraging reading at all levels, in all genres.  Who knows where this student’s reading journey started, or where it will end?  My only goal is to make sure it doesn’t end too soon.

And if we’re being honest, isn’t that the goal of all school librarians and English teachers?  If it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?

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