Sep. 6th, 2014

rockinlibrarian: (librarians)
Yesterday afternoon I opened my 2nd grader's school folder and had a moment of smug hypocrisy. They'd done their DIBEL Reading Assessments at school, and here was a page announcing my new 2nd grader is reading at a 3rd grade level. NATURALLY, MY son reads a grade level ahead.

Never mind how it's kind of my professional mission to expose how READING LEVEL IS A CROCK.

I sat there staring bemused at the paper, trying to reconcile my strong, long-held professional opinions with my parental desires for my children to do well in school. I'd just brought home the latest Elephant and Piggie book from work with me, with the idea that it would be great fun for Sam to read to the rest of us, and then he could mark it down on the reading log he has to keep for school now. But he'd grabbed the book and rather excitedly pointed to the spine and said, "It has a red dot! That means it's a first grade book!" Luckily he didn't say that in a "that means it's for BABIES" way, which would have broken my heart, BECAUSE, ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE (I mean, what kind of idiot WOULD say that? ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE! The most genius easy-reader series of the past decade-or-probably-more!), but now I looked at the paper from the school again and thought, "But wait. Does that mean he WON'T get credit for reading this? Because all of a sudden it is two reading levels too low?!"

Now if Sam were like ME, that'd be no big deal. I read so much (pre-parenthood) that I could easily read whatever number of minutes my reading log required on my Assigned Level and read whatever I wanted the rest of the time. But Sam-- how to put this-- is not a, you know, "READER." Obviously he CAN read. He reads a grade level ahead. He's just not interested in BOOKS. Also not exactly true. He's not interested in reading through story books one after another like I did as a kid. He's VERY interested in, say, a nonfiction book about trains or LEGO. He pours over his Puzzle Buzz magazines. He reads to find out things, and he loves reading to find out things. He just doesn't love reading for the sake of reading. And sitting down reading every evening for a certain amount of time is just contrary to the way he likes to read.

So now the school is putting these restrictions on reading. He HAS to read at least ten minutes a night. Those ten minutes MUST be spent on Books With a Yellow Dot AR Sticker (and oh yeah, he has to take AR tests now). Before my own kids had reached this point at school, I'd bristled whenever a parent came into the library stressing about reading levels and colored stickers and no-you-can't-read-that-it's-too-easy-or-hard. And by "before," I mean "two hours before." Two hours before, I'd printed out this post by Jon Scieszka on how to encourage reading to keep copies of at the desk.

"Do not tell them reading is magical, or good for them, or important, or something they better do for an hour before bedtime or goddammit they will end up like shiftless Uncle Dave who is always asking to borrow money," Scieszka says. "...Do not refuse to get a book for them because it isn’t up to their reading level. Do not tell them (or me, or anyone) that they are 'reluctant readers.' ...Promise there won’t be a quiz or a list of ten questions after the book."

"THIS," I proclaimed to my coworker. "Everyone who comes in here needs to read this!"

Two hours later, I sat pondering how to help my own child meet those same restrictions.

"You should come to the library with me, Sam," I said. "I can help you find some Yellow-dot books that you'll like." It became a sort of challenge in my head, really. I KNOW there are Yellow-Dot books he'll like. We're just narrowing our options. Just for the school year. Just for the reading logs. If he WANTS to read others, hey, great. Certainly he can read whatever he wants during vacations. And it's not like we're NOT going to read that Elephant and Piggie book (but hey, maybe that means I can take a part again, right? I love doing Piggie's voice). But this is just for this homework assignment. It's just a long-term homework assignment. It's just like having to pick a biography or something for a different assignment. IT'S THE ASSIGNMENT'S REQUIREMENTS, not the requirements of reading in general.

I have to admit, I feel a bit humbled. I was blinded by my idealism. I wanted all my library patrons to just DROP all their worries about reading levels, to toss them aside as the nonsense they are. But it's not so easy as all that in reality. From a parent's standpoint, now, I understand better where the school is coming from. We DO want to challenge our kids' reading skills. It's COOL that Sam is getting poked to pick up something harder or more complicated to read than he'd be likely to choose on his own.

I still believe everything Jon Scieszka says in that post. I still hate Accelerated Reader. I still think reading level is a sham. But maybe there's a way to work with the system, to work around the system. To follow the directions of school assignments without squelching the notion that reading can be fun. We need to make sure we offer enough choice within the limits given. We need to make sure everyone understands that these limits are only the rules of a school assignment, not the be-all-and-end-all of reading itself. We need to, for gosh sakes, DRILL IN the notion that accumulating minutes and answering trivia questions is JUST A SCHOOL ASSIGNMENT, NOT what reading is all about, and your abilities to do or not do those things aren't what make you a good or bad or any kind of reader. Reading is bigger than school!

But maybe I only hope I can do these things. Maybe my mom side and librarian side will be constantly fighting each other. But I hope not.

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