The most rewarding experience of my short teaching career occurred when I student-taught kindergarten. I checked out some easy picture books with repetitive stories, like "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" from the public library. After reading these books aloud to my students, I put the copies out for the children to look at in their free time. The result? The kids fought over the books I had read to them in class.
Without any prompting, they would "read" these books aloud to each other--pretending that they had mastered reading in English.
They were thrilled and so was I. Even as a trained professional teacher, I realized that the formal objective I had written in my lesson plans didn't matter.
It didn't matter that the students couldn't read yet or that they might not score as well as their English-speaking classmates on standardized tests in future years. What mattered was that they saw books as fun and enjoyable, not a chore.
As an ex-teacher and, currently, as an assistant children's librarian, I know that everyone wants children to read, but it seems we want children to read only to perform better in school and on tests.
Teachers, parents, politicians and even our libraries seem to have forgotten about promoting reading for pleasure.
However, due to the state's test-score paranoia, schools now participate in Accelerated Reader's Programs where books are listed with grade level and possible points next to each title. When a child is finished reading a book from this list (on non-school time), a test is administered and points awarded for a passing score.
The intrinsic rewards of reading are once again forgotten. If parents wanted their children to love reading, they would demand that their children pick out their own library books. Instead, parents more often locate books on their child's behalf, which, whatever a parent's misguided intention, is cheating.
One of a teacher's objectives in assigning research papers or outside reading is, after all, for students to become frequent library-users and competent book-hunters.
If California's government wanted children to love reading, then our children would have more than a mere five classroom books per student when the national average of books per student is 17.
California would have more than one school library media specialist for every 3,548 students when the national librarian-to-student ratio is one per 953.
If California public libraries wanted children to love reading, they would stop spending precious funds on videos and computers for games and free Internet access. Getting kids to love reading means getting kids more books to love.
It may be that California's low standardized test scores are the direct result of our collective failure to promote a love of books and reading.
The solution to our indifference is simple. Run to the local public library and check out a book. Public libraries rely on the statistics of how many people walk through their doors and what is checked out to prove that they need funding to buy more books.
In honor of Read Across America Day, which was recently, let's start spending our money and energy on proving that we love to read, rather than trying to prove that we can test well.