I’ve just read “Children need books, not quangos”
(Quango – Translation for Non-Brits: “government committee”)
In the article, Gillian Bowditch writes:
At my daughter’s school, literacy levels rose — especially among boys — when the headmaster ended formal reading homework for children from primary four upwards and replaced it with 20 minutes of reading of the child’s choice per night. Magazines, comics and football annuals were all acceptable. Parents were told that the aim was to present reading as an enjoyable activity and to encourage a basic level of competency.
What is so discouraging, however, is the way that fostering basic literacy has become an end goal for politicians, when it is really just the equivalent of reaching base camp.
Sounds like the government in the UK is also suffering from a similar strain of the “No Child Left Behind” disease.
Of course reading for fun improves reading skills! What a treat for young children and their parents to have a break from homework, a chance to have a good time together and improve reading skills at the same time.
I know the roadblocks to providing children with fun reading time. NCLB testing is the biggest culprit at the elementary and middle school levels. But high schools here in New York State have always had “high-stakes” testing and still manage to provide a range of learning activities. Yet any kind of school-wide, “drop everything and read” kind of activity is often resisted by some (many?) high school teachers. They cite the pressure to cover the curriculum – and that pressure is very real. Still, encouraging students to read for fun will improve student comprehension skills, and developing lifelong readers is at least as important as covering the curriculum.
Librarians – myself included – do not get away from criticism here. Perhaps the author is correct when he says:
School libraries have given way to “resource centres” and librarians have lost out to “information technology specialists.
At any rate, this article interested me because it promotes a free reading activity outside of class time. Perhaps such an activity would gain more support amongst busy teachers. Once in awhile, instead of assigning that essay question or that list of math problems to solve, they could change the assignment to:
For homework tonight, read something you enjoy for at least a half hour. Talk to someone in your family about what you have read, and be prepared to tell the class a little about your reading tomorrow.
If the teachers in each subject area would give that assignment to all their students just once a month – it would mean that students would be doing some free reading at least once a week. Surely a teacher could forgo the usual homework assignment once a month? Who knows – reading skills might improve. If not – at least everyone (teachers, students and parents) would get to relax a little.