Lessons Learned From a Summer Reading Program
The Summer Reading Program taught us a lot. It confirmed some of the ideas we already had, but also forced us to change our thinking in some ways. The experience confirmed our view that when they are given interesting, comprehensible books, most children will actually read them and will enjoy them. And it confirmed our view that reading is beneficial for language and literacy development.
The most important lesson we learned was that we underestimated what it took to get children reading. Access to good books, while necessary, was not sufficient. We needed to give at least some children some real encouragement. Our experiences gave us a good start in understanding just what kind and how much encouragement was effective.
There has been only limited discussion in the professional literature on whether we should actively encourage or even push children to read, and recommend certain books. It has clearly helped in some cases. Here are a few of the reading autobiographies of education students in the fields of library science and English language arts from Voices of Readers, by G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill.
- I also began to read more frequently when I took a course in twelfth grade called Individualized Reading . . . At the time I liked politics and read stories about negative utopias... My teacher thought I was getting too bogged down with political books and so recommended J.D. Salinger and William Golding. I feel this course introduced me to literature and influenced me toward majoring in English. (p. 98)
- In high school with the exception of one teacher, we had an almost entirely free reading program . . . my teachers let me choose my own books with an occasional suggestion. I usually tried the books they suggested and found most of them fascinating reading. (p. 99)
- . . . a librarian by the name of Miss R. probably guided my reading more than anyone. However, she did it so skillfully that I have just now come to realize it. I spent a lot of time in the public library and Miss R. always had a reading suggestion. It sometimes surprised me that the books she suggested were quite good. This is probably how I came to read most of the good books as well as my own selections. I was a prolific reader. (p. 113)
- After I had made several trips to the library, Miss B. became aware of the interest in horses that had grown in me and recommended book after book on horses for me to read. I went through all of Walter Farley’s books as well as every other book on horses that the library owned. (p. 113)
- About this time I discovered the public library. Here I spent two hours every afternoon. I remember with awe and affection the plump librarian who never shushed, never frowned, who led me constantly to new books. One day she asked me if I know about gods and goddesses and showed me to the mythology section. I scarcely moved for a month. (p. 114)
The literature also provides us with cases in which encouragement didn’t work.
Voices of Readers provides us with this one:
- The librarian . . . always tried to interest my friend and me in books that had won Newbury prizes or books of exceptional quality for our age bracket. At the time (grade school) I was more interested in horses, so I generally resisted his efforts . . . There was one book I took home once to get him off my back. I would still pass up The Last of the Mohicans today, because of the extreme pressure I experienced as a youth to read it. (p. 115)
Encouraging didn’t work in Vincent Greaney and Mary Hegarty’s study, published in 1987: Parents of less-adept fifth grade readers were more likely to encourage the children to read the newspaper than the parents of better readers.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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