Friday, September 5, 2008

Disturbing Report...

This is a picture of Wendy Melzer, a second grade teacher. In the picture, she is presenting her students with a gift. The gift is a writing notebook for each child. What you don't know is that she has already given her students the greatest gift a teacher can give...the joy of reading!

Wendy loves to read and her students know this about her. She shares her reading habits and her enthusiasm for reading with them every day. She tells them about the books she is reading at home written by her favorite authors. Wendy reads aloud to her students many times every day, she reads with them during guided reading groups, and she provides time every day for students to read independently. She overwhelmingly sends the message that reading is an important part of her personal life and an important part of her teaching. And it's contagious. By the end of the school year, the students who entered her classroom with less than an enthusiastic attitude toward reading have completely transformed to readers themselves.

Unfortunately, an article in the Journal of Teacher Education titled, The Reading Habits and Literacy Attitudes of Inservice and Prospective Teachers: Results of a Questionnaire Survey written by Steven Nathanson, John Pruslow, and Roberta Levitt of Long Island University, indicates a prevalance of aliteracy among preservice and inservice teachers:

This article describes a questionnaire survey of 747 students enrolled in a graduate school of education, who are currently teachers or prospective teachers. The Literacy Habits Questionnaire, developed by Applegate and Applegate, was administered in September 2006. Findings suggest a high prevalence of aliteracy, the ability to read but a disinterest in personal reading. Although graduate students acknowledge the importance of reading for teachers, they do not themselves exhibit investment in personal reading.

As a professor of graduate and undergraduate reading methods and children's literature courses, the results of this study ring true...and it breaks my heart! I know that teachers must be readers before they can motivate children to become readers. Teachers like Wendy who love to read and model their enthusiam for children lay the foundation for successful literacy practices that last a lifetime.

What is the cause of aliteracy for preservice and inservice teachers? My students tell me that they have been reading for other purposes than their own since middle school. They read what their middle school, high school, and college teachers require them to read, which is predominately textbooks or literature for which they feel no connection. There is no time for the type of reading that instills joy. It becomes a complex teachers chose not to read because they really don't like to read or because they have difficulty finding the time and resources to read the types of books they enjoy? Regardless of the cause, the important question is what can be done. The authors of the article put forth another finding from the study:

Also, the findings suggest that professors of literacy and education need to do more to encourage personal reading by incorporating strategies to promote reading among current and future literacy professionals.

I require students in all of my classes to read children's literature, but I give them a choice. I provided them with resources for finding quality literature and let me select the books they think they will like. I also provide class time for them to get together in book clubs and discuss the books they are reading. Peers have a powerful influence on each other and often, students will read the books their fellow book club members endorse. Through this process, most students "remember" liking to read as a child and rediscover their enthusiasm for children's literature. They start a list of books they want to read over the summer and join online book discussions so their time for talking about books with others is more flexible.

But, the biggest influence on their return to reading is my excitement for reading. Over and over, students tell me that I am the reason they start reading again. I love books and I just can't contain my joy for reading. It spills over into everything I do in class in one way or another. I say this not to toot my own horn, but to point out that just like Wendy, those of us who touch the lives of teachers and children have a powerful influence. Spread the joy!

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