Reading in today’s society tends to be a social activity. People share books, recommend them, discuss them, blog about them, and list them on virtual library sites. However, across the nation, NCLB requires states to test reading in isolation. Students must make sense of text without the support of peer readers and answer questions that are judged by someone far away – someone who will never meet the test-taker or listen to an explanation of his answer.
Sadly, a lot of schools have given up teaching novels in favor of more test practice. I find this a worrisome trend, considering the downward spiral of American interest in reading. A recent New Yorker article reported that in a survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002 only 47% of the participants had read a work of creative literature in the previous twelve months. That’s over half the participants admitting to not a single book in a year. Perhaps this explains why parents at a community event this fall complained about my school’s summer reading assignments. “It’s supposed to be vacation!” one parent said to me indignantly, knowing I was a teacher at her child’s school. She was unashamed to complain about the burden of reading a book over the 10-week summer vacation.
Luckily, my school still values reading books for the joy of reading, and although we have to balance our reading instruction with rigorous test preparation, we do ask students to read over the summer. We also maintain a place in the classroom for the social discussion of books – rather than simply hammering the students with worksheets, multiple-choice questions, and essays written in isolation.
Again, I ask myself, what is the true definition of literacy?
Could it possibly include the look on the students’ faces when we come back from the Book Fair? Should the definition of reading mention the way in which kids hug their newly purchased books to their chests with joy and anticipation? Why doesn’t the state come in and assess the contented sigh and subsequent silence that descends upon the classroom when I toss my lesson plans out the window and say, “Let’s all read the books we bought at the Fair today, okay?”