Post #27: The Power of Reading


The Power of Reading (Second Edition) by Stephen D. Krashen

Post number twenty-seven is for Stephen D. Krashen's The Power of Reading, which was a required text for my Youth Services Librarianship course. I'm not going to put a spoiler space up, because I don't consider this such a hot title that people would be upset about knowing what it's about. :-P

Krashen basically takes a whole bunch of studies (some of which he himself conducted) to prove that – SHOCKER! – the more you read to kids, the better they'll be at reading themselves. There's a bunch of stuff about how children from low socioeconomic homes have little access to books, which in turns leads to problems with reading when they're in school. This is not news to me – I work in a school that serves children from low, socioeconomic backgrounds, and have seen firsthand that this is definitely true. It didn't take a whole portion of the book to show proof of this.

The second part of the book talks about "light reading"; that of comic books, teen romance novels, etc. Studies show that children who are allowed to do "light reading" will progress on to reading harder, "better" books, because the utilization of "light reading" will increase reading ability, which will in turn allow them to read harder books. (Magazines also fall under "light reading". We have lots of magazines in our library at my workplace, but we don't let the kids check them out. I … don't understand this, especially since so much of the budget goes to magazines, which then don't get used. Color me confuzzled.)

The whole point of this book is that children need to learn to read for pleasure, and once they do, they will continue to read in their older teen years and as an adult. More reading leads to higher reading scores. He wants schools to implement a Free Voluntary Reading program, and use this for the majority of reading instruction time. However, schools just aren't going to go for this; they believe in reading instruction – and, I disagree with Krashen that this isn't necessary, because reading is not something that anyone is going to pick up on their own, as our brains aren't automatically wired for reading. If you don't read with kids and expose them to books, they aren't going to pick them up on their own, and they aren't going to be able to read them on their own. You aren't born knowing how to read, you know? So to say that some level of reading instruction isn't necessary is just … ridiculous.

The third part of the book talks about the idea of rewarding students for reading (like with Accelerated Reader or other such programs). I am torn on this; I truly believe that some of our students would not ever touch a book if we didn't offer them some sort of reward for it. Also, the more you read, the better you get, and if you're forcing them to read via a program like A.R. (and, yes, I get that you shouldn't force books on students, but I honestly think that at our school we do a nice job of offering a variety of A.R. titles on a variety of reading levels, so that everyone can find something they are interested in), they will at least read a book. Also, A.R. is built on the idea of reading a book and then answering questions about what they've read, and – here's another shocker – but that's what standardized testing does. So, if you expose them to a program like A.R. and get them reading books, the standardized testing can only become easier for them. And that's a huge thing, with so much focus on No Child Left Behind and Annual Yearly Progress scores, which so many schools aren't doing so well on (including the one I work at).

I agree with Krashen 100% that kids need to be exposed to books and environmental print. This isn't a newsflash for anyone, I don't think. But I am just not certain how doable his ideas are for schools. As much as I would love to be able to institute a FVR program in the schools, with all the testing now required of teachers, and all the curriculum they have to cover in their very limited instruction time, there just isn't a whole lot of time to allow for FVR. And that's the shame of the education system, I think, rather than anything else. And until the focus gets turned away from tests, that is going to continue to be the case.


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