Thursday, October 01, 2009

Quantity in Reading

This is just sad.

Curriculum Matters:

Carol Jago, the president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English, tells me she thinks the draft has improved in two ways. First, it emphasizes "quantity in reading." Jago, an author and former high school teacher, served as one of several outside reviewers of the English-language arts version of the document.

"More is more when it comes to students and reading," Jago told me in an e-mail. "I was delighted to see this important point addressed so directly...The dramatic difference between the number of books students read in high school and the number they are assigned in college I believe contributes enormously to student failure in the first semester at university." A lot of first-year college students would no doubt agree with Jago on this point. (Language about quantity in reading can be found on page 1-A of the document.)

Here's the actual language:

Quantity: Students must have the capacity to handle independently the quantity of reading material, both in print and online, required in college and workforce training. Studies show that the amount of reading students face in high school is often far lower than that required for typical first-year college courses. Students need to be able to perform a close reading of a much higher volume of texts and to sort efficiently through large amounts of print and online information in search of specific facts or ideas.

Should that be "college or workforce training," or do they mean "college and workforce training?" It is not a small distinction. How much reading do you have to do to be trained for most jobs? A binder someone in HR gives you?

Here's what strong language on quantity looks like -- I pull out my old NCEE New Standards binder, first enumerated standard in the whole thing:

E1a. The student reads at least twenty-five books or book equivalents each year...

Agree or disagree with the standard, it is clear. (and for the record, while I've got nits to pick with the New Standards, I ultimately spent several years of my life trying to build a school around them, so don't think I hate all standards).

It is also worth pointing out though, that the "Standards for the Range and Content of Student Reading" are not benchmarked, and a quick scan seems to confirm my feeling that the English standards of high performing countries do not emphasize quantity as an end in itself.

Ultimately, what's depressing here is that if NCTE decides to just let this slide through, there's really nobody to stop it.

1 comment:

Eric T. MacKnight said...

For years I've been counting Independent Reading for one-third of my students' grades in English, but it's based on the number of pages, not the number of books. Some books are 500 pages long, others barely 100; why should they be equivalent?

Otherwise, I'm in complete agreement. Who believes that students can become good readers or acquire any significant literary experience or background knowledge by reading only the 4-5 texts assigned each year for class study?

My Independent Reading program is described in detail here: