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Book Review: 'Readicide'


Q. It seems like the more money we spend on education, the less kids like to read. What are we doing wrong?


We're doing a lot wrong, according to the author of "Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It." The author, Kelly Gallagher, says that the most important job of a school is to develop students who love to read, and will continue to read throughout their lives, and not just until the end of school. But he says we're not doing that, and in fact, the practices in our schools today are having the opposite effect - driving kids AWAY from reading.


Gallagher, a longtime high-school English teacher in California, acknowledges that poverty, second-language issues, and electronic entertainment all have done their part to damage interest in children and youth in books and reading.


But he says standard instructional practices in schools are hurting reading, too:


n       schools are more interested in developing good test-takers than good readers;


n       schools are giving kids a lot of shallow information on a lot of topics so that they can do well

on multiple-choice questions on standardized tests, instead of giving them curriculum that has depth as well as breadth;


n       schools "under-teach" - they expect students to suddenly be able to understand difficult text in high school, without proper preparation in the early grades;


n       schools focus students on books that they have to read for the classroom, rather than on books to read for enjoyment;


n       schools also "over-teach" - when the books are challenging for most students, the teachers bog things down with worksheets, sticky notes, micromanaging assignments, vocabulary lists, margin notes and constant other interruptions, which emphasizes the trivial at the expense of the meaningful, instead of letting students experience the book on their own;


n       because of Political Correctness - demanding that all children learn the same information even though they have vastly different ability levels - the struggling readers often give up, and the advanced readers get bored and frustrated;


n       "authentic reading" - the actual experience of reading a book - has practically been buried under an avalanche of lectures, discussions, group work, projects, films, worksheets, test preparation, and many other activities. The author's high-school students kept track for a while and found that they averaged only 13 minutes of actual reading, in an average school day.


Gallagher lists a lot of ways that teachers can fight "readicide," including a lot more self-selection of books by students and one-page book reports rather than requiring intimidating research papers. But he also requests that parents and taxpayers get involved:


1.                          Demand that schools practice reading instruction throughout the grades that first focuses on decoding, and soon thereafter, focuses on comprehension, problem-solving, analysis, and other higher-level reading skills. Too many schools use ineffective methods of developing decoding skills in beginning readers (using Whole Language techniques instead of phonics-only techniques), and then, by second or third grade, when they should be leaving decoding behind and moving on to purely comprehension-related activities, they have to keep re-teaching decoding throughout grade school. Parents and taxpayers should demand phonics-only reading instruction in the early grades to avoid this, and demand that teachers' colleges teach phonics-only reading instruction methods, since most of them do not at the present time.


2.                          Demand that we minimize the amount of time spent preparing for standardized tests, and quit grading class work on what should be recreational reading, and instead focus on the fostering of reading, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving.


3.                          Parents who are having trouble getting their child to read at home for enjoyment might want to use the list of books for reluctant readers that Gallagher lists at the end of his book for "reluctant readers."


While most of Gallagher's observations are excellent, he falls into the educators' trap of pointing to results on standardized tests posted by students in Finland as Exhibit A for why American schools should do away with standardized tests and move to more subjective, less accountable school philosophies. However, it should be noted that the reason students in Finland do so well on language-based internationally standardized tests is that the Finnish language is much simpler than English. There may be only two words for "red," for example, while there are as many as 20 in English. Therefore, it's misleading to compare Finnish scores to American scores on these tests.


But otherwise, there's a lot to like and learn from in this interesting book.



Homework: Learn more about this author at


By Susan Darst Williams Reading 21 2010

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