by Leigh Ellis Beauchamp, M. Ed., Certified Reading Specialist
You may have read my previous blog post about why I see Mia as a force for leveling the reading playing field. In this post, I’ll cover some of the more pernicious myths and beliefs about reading I’ve seen at play among parents, teachers, and students in my 14 years of teaching, as well as my vision for how Mia can help to counter them.
1. “Comic books [or any other type of text] aren’t books. They don’t count as real reading.”
Any reading is good reading! As I mentioned in my last post, kids are far more motivated to read when the book is one they choose and like! For example, maybe you believe that jogging is the best way to exercise, and you try to make your child jog a mile a day, with little success. You might get 30 seconds of a halfhearted run before dealing with 20 painful, foot-dragging minutes and a miserable kid. Meanwhile, your child loves swimming and spends two hours a day excitedly splashing and kicking around in the pool. Isn’t she still getting a workout? In fact, isn’t she getting much more of a workout than the unmotivated jogging drudgery that she only did because she was forced to? Would you ever want to jog again if that was your primary memory of jogging? So, why give your child unpleasant associations with reading by forcing her to read the way you think she should? READING IS READING IS READING. And so often, the “unliterary” comic strip or website your child begins with opens the way to print books (see #2). Mia’s recommendations are tailor-made to your child’s preferences, to ensure that their motivation is as high as it can be. Mia will never chastise your child’s tastes in reading material or hesitate to recommend a graphic novel. The science is unequivocal: Any reading is good for kids.
2. “My child should only read high quality literature.”
Taking issue with the appropriateness of a book’s content is one thing, but if you’re making value judgments on the merits of a text, try to put those aside. Recipes, emails, blogs, scripts, lists of ingredients … all of these require us to read. A young teacher I met in graduate school told me that it wasn’t until she was in high school and discovered fashion magazines that she started to enjoy reading. Those seemingly trivial, unworthy texts opened a world for her. I myself devoured a steady diet of fluffy series involving twins, babysitters, and the like. If your child likes “quality” literature, then more power to her! But, again, please don’t force the classics on your child in the hope that she’ll automatically develop a taste for them. Let kids read what they want to read, and forget the canon. It’s the simplest psychological equation: Human beings will repeatedly do what we enjoy; if your child enjoys his reading, he’s a lot more likely to repeat that pattern than if he doesn’t. And we want him to repeat that pattern, every day!
3. “I let my kid take the summer off from reading. They deserve a break.”
Studies show that kids’ reading proficiency nosedives when they don’t read over the summer in a troubling effect known as the “summer slide.” It is an absolute epidemic. Nearly all children advance in reading ability by about 9 months during a school year. Those who read over the summer move up an additional few months, while those who don’t, predictably, move back. The same holds true year after year, until, by 5th grade, the difference between the students who read over the summer and those that did not is 2.5 to 3 years.At the beginning of every school year, and again at the end, I show and then act out this video clip for my students. I go forward a number of steps to represent the knowledge gained by a student during the school year. Then I say, “But what happens when I don’t read over the summer?” They respond, “You go back.” I then take steps backwards. I then go forward again to represent the next school year, but again, tell them I’m choosing not to read over the summer. “What happens?” “You go back.” They start to notice that I don’t move terribly far forward. I just keep hovering, undoing steps I had taken to make progress and not really getting that far. Meanwhile, when I acted as the child who read all summer, it was just forward all the time in a straight path. I was almost out our classroom door in no time. So it goes with summer reading.The good news is that studies show that if a K-2nd grade student reads 10-12 books over the summer, they make the same academic gains as if they had attended summer school. The same is true for 3rd-8th graders if they read 5-6 books. I ask my 7th graders to guess how many books they would have to read this summer to equal a summer school education. Many are shocked that it’s only six, and once they realize it’s so few, I ask them to tell me how many books per week that means they’d have to read during the summer. They quickly figure out that it’s one book every two weeks. I then reiterate, “Ladies and gentlemen, just reading ONE book every TWO weeks over the summer, for a total of SIX books all summer, will do the same thing for you as if you went to summer school.” And I let that sink in. Summer reading is imperative.I stress this constantly with parents of my students, who frequently meet me with shocked and confused looks. I wish more parents knew about the dangers of the summer slide! If you feel guilty about your child’s summer reading habits, don’t despair. It’s not too late to change things: Why not read the same books as your child over the summer so you can talk about them? Without a teacher checking in over the summer months, Mia can be a valuable ally keeping your child on track and maintaining their reading momentum, and she’ll often suggest reading as a means to deepen their bond with you.
4. “Older kids don’t need to be read aloud to.”
I wholeheartedly agree with and reiterate what Mia Learning staff have already said on this topic. There’s something simultaneously comforting and exciting about having a text read aloud to you. The words flow off the page and right into your active imagination, which is freed up to simply soak in the beautiful language and create a sort of movie in your mind. Also, students’ listening comprehension is often quite a bit higher than their reading comprehension, usually by a few years. Kids who may not be able to grasp a text they attempt to read on their own can let their minds soar when they’re read to, creating a positive experience with language. It’s all about creating positive experiences.We return to activities that we feel good about. Mia coaches children who report struggling with a complex text to seek out an adult who can read the book with or to them, promoting resilience if they are indeed interested in the book. She also reminds kids of the social components of reading, encouraging them to connect with others via activities like reading aloud.
5. “Kids need to be tested after every book they read to see how well they really comprehended them.”
First, most of these tests involve low level, basic recall questions. They don’t require much deeper thinking, so they’re not terribly hard to pass. Second: Think about how relaxing and entertaining watching television can be. Let’s assume for the sake of argument it’s a favorite pastime of yours. Now, imagine you have to take a test immediately after every show you watch to see how well you comprehended it. How motivated will you be to watch TV now? While we do want to pay attention to kids’ comprehension, we don’t want to kill their motivation with constant testing. Mia will ask your child to actually reflect on how they’re making meaning from what they’ve read, not to assess their comprehension but to gauge how successfully her recommendation aligned with their purpose, ability level, and tastes.
One thing many of these myths have in common is that they tend to make us feel stressed out about our children’s reading. When we’re fretting over the quality of our child’s book selections, interrupting their momentum constantly to test them, or denying them the pleasures of being read to, we inadvertently take what should be a joyous experience and strip it of all its charms. Mia is dedicated to helping your child or student to associate reading with fulfillment and enjoyment. Why not join her in her mission? Don’t let these destructive myths get in the way of a lifelong love of reading.