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Was reading encouraged in your school?

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#1 Alexandra


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Posted 05 June 2003 - 02:15 PM

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading the children's books thread -- wish there were time to read some of those books again! -- and I'd be very interested in learning how reading/books/literature was taught in your school days, and how much school had to do with your love of reading. There are obviously a LOT of constant readers here! We have so many different ages and sections of the U.S., and different countries. (I think the home influence is at least as important, if not more, but I'm curious about school.)

From 1st to 4th grade I went to a private school that I loved. By first grade, thanks to my family, I read well above grade level (as I'm sure most of us did) and there was another child in the same situation, a little boy whose mother was a teacher, and the teacher sent us to the school library during the reading lesson, with instructions to read anything we wanted, and write book reports on what we read. I've never felt so grown up, before or since!

In the horrible parochial school (5th through 8th grades) reading was taught as it probably was in the 1850s -- child by child had to stand up and read one sentence. We had to read ONE book a year and do a book report. No guidance was given, but religoius works were preferred.

In high school (a very good public high school) we had to do about 15 book reports a year, I think, and from 10th grade on we could not include the plot in the reports. We couldn't just summarize the story; we had to analyze -- theme, or character, plot or setting. We weren't given any guidance in what to read. Half of the reading had to be "classics" the definition of which was completely up to the teacher, but other than that -- unless we picked something that was a really trash novel, we could do what we wanted. My high school didn't have Advanced Placement classes for literature; they were just becoming popular. And senor year we spent most of the time in SAT preparation. But we also had to do what they called an "investigative theme," which meant to choose an author, read everything s/he wrote, and do a long paper on it.

When I taught at a local university in the late 1980s, I was, er, surprised to find that their literature requirement was fulfiled by a choice among: sports fiction, science fiction, African-American fiction, or -- I forget the phrase, but whatever fancy language there was for contemporary best sellers. That was it. (In college, we had to chose two from among fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short story and novel)

I'd really love to know what's going on in schools today, so if any of our Young Dancers sees this, do chime in!

#2 Paquita


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Posted 05 June 2003 - 04:09 PM

I've been at the same private school from grade 1 until OAC (Ontario Academic Credit, or Grade 13, which is being eliminated this year- I am part of the last OAC class!), and reading was always encouraged.
Not only in my school, but in several elementary schools in Ontario (and perhaps elsewhere), we had "D.E.A.R." time- which stood for "drop everything and read!". That was around grade 3-5. We had cozy pillows and piles of books to spend time with, although I must admit that a lot of that time was actually spent socializing.
I really enjoyed being read to, as I've had some very 'theatrical' teachers;) They always knew where to stop for the day and leave us hanging! I even had a teacher in grade 10 who read passages to us, which made sure that everyone did their reading homework in between.
As my sister was an avid reader, my parents tried to force me to read books far above my grade level. Trying to finish the entire set of C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia at age 7 or 8 was enough to turn me off! Usually in school, there would be a choice of 3 books. I was always in the 'advanced' stream, but I didn't actually enjoy it. But one of my teachers went out of the way to talk to my parents, suggesting that I subscribe to Cricket magazine to develop an enjoyment of reading. I did, and it helped!
On top of book reports, in many grades we had "literary journals", a sort of diary of our thoughts on what we were reading. It was fun because the teacher always wrote back!
Sometimes we had authors come for book signings, we had book fairs, and monthly book orders. There is a book club and also a "Red Maple" program, where kids read books from a list and vote on their favourite. We once had a "book-a-thon" fundraiser where donors gave pledges based on the number of books we read (of course, everyone tried to find the shortest ones!).
I did go to a public school for grade 9, where the student to teacher ratio was much greater. For that reason, we chose a book from a list, and there was a computer program which had quizzes on each of the books. After reading the book, we would have to do the quiz and the teacher could view our score. I didn't like it at all! The questions were mostly concerning trivial details as it is impossible to guage a students real understanding through a machine!
In High School, English has become one of my favourite subjects. This year I wrote the AP exam as well. AP credits are not recognized at very many Canadian universities, it was more that my teacher wanted me to do it for a challenge. We did not have a separate AP class, but we would have occasional meetings.
In terms of the books I've read in school, sometimes I wish there was more variety. The curriculum is mostly Shakespeare and British authors. There are very few female authors (I can't only think of 2, both Canadian, Joy Kogawa and Margaret Lawrence). But with independent assignments, it's more open, I have had the chance to read Sylvia Plath, Sophocles, Kafka, Peter Shafer (Equus), Dostoyevsky, and Voltiare. This is for Core English. For Studies in Literature (which I did not take), students are allowed to read contemporary literature. Margaret Atwood and Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" seem very popular this year.
So, I believe reading is very much encouraged at my school. But it seems that kids now are more visual, and films are being used more and more in classes. Some are very good (Branagh's Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird), others are outdated or stray too much from the book (Fahrenheit 451, Maria Chapdelaine). When it comes to doing research, most students go straight to the internet, even when there are several books on the topic.

#3 Hans


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Posted 05 June 2003 - 04:30 PM

My elementary school had "SSR" time. I can't remember what the first S stood for, but the other two letters were for "Silent Reading." We could read whatever we wanted, and it was my favorite part of day. I had to write about books starting in 6th grade and analyze them (very basically) in 7th grade. I learned formal essay structure in 9th grade. Often when writing about a book we were either allowed to choose from a selection of books or a specific genre, or sometimes at the end of the year, we could write about whatever we wanted, but certain types of books were not allowed (ie, no Danielle Steele books. Invariably at the end of class there was a group of girls who went up to the teacher to say "but this book by Danielle Steele is really good!).

I remember one time in middle school we were required to choose a book for a report, and the book had to be at least 100 pages long. I was surprised that such a short book would be allowed, but all my classmates complained that a book that size was far too long:rolleyes:!

#4 floss



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Posted 05 June 2003 - 04:54 PM

Hans, SSR could be silent, sustained reading ( in Aus. anyway)
I don't remember when or how I started to read, I just know that I read, it came very easily to me. My teachers would just give me books to read that the others would not be reading. I went to public schools from Infants to High School. While in Infants and primary two other girls and I would go to the Headmistress for reading and I know that the books we read were high school books because they were stamped with the H.S name and the Form that would be reading those books. If I didn't have anything to read I would read the Atlas or the Encyclopedias at home. Infants did not have a library so when we moved up to the primary school we had our own library ( I was made a library monitor, all those books! the joy!) We were taken on an excursion to the town library where we all received library cards and after that I would pester my father to take me to the library every Saturday morning. High School had an even bigger library only problem was more study, less time to read!

#5 Doris R

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Posted 05 June 2003 - 05:33 PM

When I was in school we read! There was a list of "Great Books" that were, if not required, highly encouraged reading -- not all those on the list, but several from each group were expected to be "ours" as we went through junior and senior high. We had community volunteers who would come to school to listen to our required oral book reports as well as the written ones we turned in to our teachers. (Public school in the long-ago 60's.) And I loved reading -- anything and everything, it was a wonderful way to go places and experience things that a girl growing up in a small rural area of Pennsylvania would otherwise never know.

My daughter loved reading until she hit sixth grade and the required curriculum we had then was kind of scary -- coming of age, death and dying stories, ie. The Bridge to Terabithia and A Day No Pigs Will Die. I'll never forget that when she was reading "Pigs" she was sitting in the living room sobbing. I had never read the book and she handed it to me, then we were both in tears. (After that, I read the books too to fend off any problems.) I had a child who loved reading turn into a kid who hated it because she felt too deeply. Happily, in recent years she has rediscovered the joy in books that she knew as a young child.

The last two years the school system where I work has really put a push on reading, encouraging students to choose books and become involved with them, but sadly that is changing with our new Superintendent of Schools. (Not quite sure where his direction is going.)

#6 vagansmom


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Posted 05 June 2003 - 05:33 PM

I went to parochial schools from kindergarten through 12th grade
:mad: I remember what you describe of reading class, Alexandra, from my elementary teachers with the exception of two. Like most of the kids in my family, I learned to read before attending kindergarten. Schooltime reading was a boring matter except that it gave me great time to daydream into my pages. Every year I'd read the entire reading book on the very first day and then have to plod through it over and over again with the rest of the class. I learned how to "check out" mentally and return when it was my time to stand up and read aloud.

But my fourth grade teacher encouraged my reading. She gave me "Ivanhoe" and, of all things (she was an elderly nun), a copy of "Frankenstein". I was awed and felt very grown up. My 8th grade teacher took me aside and suggested titles to me, the classics mostly, like "Little Women" and "Little Men".

My first two years in high school were spent at a semi-cloistered, Ukrainian Catholic (Byzantine rite) all-girls boarding school. Mercifully, I was a day student there. Still, I've managed to wipe out nearly all memory of that school so I'm not quite sure WHAT I did in English classes for those two years. I do remember reading "A Separate Peace".

I then attended a regional Catholic high school where I encountered the teacher who would change my attitude about school and learning. She taught creative writing and she took an interest in me. To this day, some 33 years later, we're still in touch. At that time, she suggested Flannery O'Connor, Willa Cather, and Rumer Godden, all of whose books I still adore and reread to this day.

On to teaching literature myself: I'm an elementary Montessori teacher who's taught literature classes for all ages. We have a book discussion group once a week. It's a cozy affair. We snuggle up on some throw pillows with our books and cups of herbal tea to discuss our book. I model it after St. John's College's "Great Books" program, but NOT on what's taught in other elementary schools as the Great Books series. I've looked at that curriculum and, IMO, it's a terribly bastardized version of the original. My groups are more in the spirit of St. John's discussions (I lived with my husband while he attended that college and I audited many a discussion group).

Despite being a member of book discussion groups most of my adult life, some of the greatest conversations I've ever had have come from the young students. Kids are busy figuring out justice and they love to ponder it from every angle. Books supply the ideal avenue to do that.

As far as exploring the techniques of literature writing, I begin one part of my program every year with "Can you tell a book by its cover?" Kids discuss what they look for in a book, we examine every part of a book: the front and back covers, the copyright page, the dedication page, the chapter names, and most importantly, the size and type of font. We read the first line, the first page - "Does it 'grab' you?" We talk about what we do when we find we don't like a book we've chosen.

We read and discuss about one book, sometimes two, a month (this is besides their once-a-month book report requirement by their regular teacher). After the first two months, the kids run the group themselves. They assign themselves homework "jobs", write up an order of reporting on their jobs, and lead the discussions by following that order. For example, some of the jobs are:

Discussion Director, who asks open-ended, insightful questions of the rest of the group

Character Captain, who follows a main character throughout the book

Passage Master, who guides us to important passages

Vocabulary Enricher, who refers us to interesting or new vocab words

Travel Tracer, who keeps track of where the book's action takes place

Connector, who finds meaningful connections between the book and other areas of our lives

Summarizer, who starts us out by reminding us all of the highlights of the passages we've currently read

Illustrator (the favorite job, of course), who draws or creates a model representing some aspect of the book

I try to include each year at least one example each of a biography, fantasy, science fiction, adventure, historical fiction, and contemporary fiction, and short story. After reading, discussing and dissecting a book, the kids then write, and publish within the classroom, their own short book in the style of the genre we've just read.

I love my literature groups. I've found that, of all the teaching I've done throughout a couple decades in the classroom, there's nothing quite as fun as discussing a good book (or even a bad one, for that matter). Even the poor readers among my students love these discussion groups.

One of the boys in my class has Asperger's, a high-functioning form of autism, and Tourette's. He struggles to keep from rocking his body violently, he struggles to read, he struggles to keep himself from shouting out, he can't hold a pencil without it breaking. Yet he's the most avid reader of the group (his mom reads most of the passages to him at home) and his favorite job is the Discussion Director. He asks the most poignant questions about truth and relationships.

#7 Ed Waffle

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Posted 05 June 2003 - 06:24 PM

My experience in a Roman Catholic grammar school were different from those of Alexandra and vagansmom. Reading was encouraged for all the grades. There were even reading contests--each class had a list of books that were outside the assigned work. The name of each student who wanted to participate was put on a bar chart--the bars looked like the spines of little books--and it was colored in as books were finished and reported on.

There was a Junior Great Books program that was run by volunteers. I read "Antigone" in the sixth grade and was quite taken with it.

Everyone was expected to read--there were a lot of kids in that school (and in many on the south side of Chicago) whose parents were immigrants from Poland or Mexico. Many of the parents worked in the nearby steel mills and many did not read English well. But it was expected that their children would and they did.

As a side note, parents and teachers were in a united front. If you were sent home with a note from your teacher regarding badly done assignments or inattention in class it was a BIG DEAL. And if the principal asked one's parents to a special conference, it was the end of the world. One's parent's were very unhappy--Dad had to take the day off work (or get up at an odd time, if he was working nights) and put on a suit. Mom was mortified. It really got your attention.

#8 liebs


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Posted 05 June 2003 - 08:09 PM

Reading was sacred in our family, my parents took us to the library every Friday night. We always read in bed before going to sleep and some times, we cheated and continued to read under the covers after lights out.

#9 glebb


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Posted 06 June 2003 - 07:12 PM

I went to public school in Dade County - Florida, so the answer is no.

#10 svemaus



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Posted 07 June 2003 - 05:41 AM

I went to a public elementary school from grade 1 - 4, as every German child does. Sadly, I have to say, that we didnít read a single book in these 4 years and basically only read stories out of our school books. We did have a little library, consisting of a shelf with 20 books to choose from...and these ones were usually already borrowed by the older students.

From grade 5 - 10 at a private high school, the problem was still there: 3-4 German lessons a week mainly packed with grammar exercises and reading out loud from school books, but still no intense study of literature. I do remember reading one book in each grade, but this is just not sufficient! And the worst of all was that the books were entirely chosen by our old German teacher who used to pick the most uninteresting ones that a child in grade 6 or 7 could get her hands on!

The situation completely changed in grade 11 - 13, when the teachers suddenly realised that most of the pupils are going to be students at university and therefore need to have reading competence. We read about 2 - 3 books each semester (which is a lot compared to the years before!) in grade 11; the studies became even more intense, when I chose German and English as my honour subjects, because I had to read about 30 books in 4 semesters. Unfortunately, most of the students were not used to reading and thought that it was totally boring; this attitude was emphasized by our teacherís lack of motivation. As a result, most of the people in my class wrote the test without having read the books (!), but gaining satisfying grades because our teachers didnít feel like talking with us about our problems - constructive criticism was not welcome at all and lead to bad grades (Iím talking about my own experiences!)

So, to say it in a nutshell, reading was NOT AT ALL encouraged at our schools. I was lucky enough to have parents who gave me books to read at a very early age and taking me to the library every week. :(

#11 vagansmom


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Posted 07 June 2003 - 09:20 AM

It does seem that, despite the appalling lack of guidance and vision of many of our schools, most of us posting here are enthusiastic readers and can probably credit our parents for that. I know it's true in my case. Both parents were avid readers. Dinner conversations were invariably about books: "What are you reading?" "What are you thinking?" As a family, we had lively, impromptu book discussions around the dinner table and could easily sit there and argue for at least a couple hours if we had differing opinions.

In fact, I've never really thought of elementary schools as being useful when it comes to reading. They're good (at least they SHOULD be) at teaching decoding. But provoking discussion? Only the occasional inspired teacher seems able to do that.

#12 GWTW


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Posted 08 June 2003 - 12:18 AM

In my family, we can have lively, impromptu arguments about anything.:)

I don't really recall reading being encouraged or discouraged in any special way. I could read (English) long before I went to school, and my 1st grade teacher would ask me to read to the class or to a group if she wanted to concentrate on another group. During some elementary grades, we had library hours, but at that age, I think "everyone" went to the municipal library after school anyway.
Literature, both original and translated, is a compulsory subject for matriculation in Israel, so are Essay-writing (yes - the exam is to write an essay on a given subject) and Bible Studies. So I think most Israeli high-school matriculants, and obviously not everyone matriculates, are fairly literate. Of course, just because someone's literate doesn't mean they love reading. :)

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 08 June 2003 - 02:21 AM

I'll have to say that my school was pretty good about encouraging reading. The elementary school library even instituted a program of interlibrary loan within the district by making the high school library catalogue available for those of us who read significantly above grade level. Our 5th-grade teacher even engineered something with the library to have an "annex" in the classroom, where books could be obtained without having to go out of the room to make access easier. At the beginning of each day, we had a "News" segment of the day, where we could "report" stories in the newspapers. Oral book reviews were also appropriate for this part of the day. It seemed to work all right.

#14 diane


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Posted 08 June 2003 - 02:28 AM

I have asked my younger daughter (6th grade, German junior-high) if they are encouraged to read.
She says that they are allowed to present a book to the class - one child per day, about three days per week.
There is no "list" of preferred books. Together, as a class, they generally read one book per year and analyze it, report on it, etc. (In my ninth-grader's class, they have "done" about three books this year.)
The younger daughter says that she would love to present more books to her class; but she reads mostly English-language books, and does not know the German versions, which would make a presentation/report difficult. (though not impossible...)
This year the class is "doing" The Hobbit - in German. She is not that enamored of the idea; she has read it - and the Lord of the Rings - more than a few times in English throughout the past few years.

So, is reading being encouraged in the school here? I would have to say, not really.
There are, at least in the German and Austrian cities I have lived in, not the sort of well-stocked libraries I knew when I lived in the US.
The kids of course have to _read_ in order to understand the material they are expected to learn (maths, science, native and foreign language/s, religion, history, geography and music); but they are not really encouraged to read anything above and beyond that.

In my own schooling it was a bit different.
I went to American schools, although sometimes not in the U.S.
There was usually a good library, and reading was actively encourged. (reading lists, book reports, enthusiastic teachers, etc.)

Luckily my daughters do enjoy reading - but they get no recognition or credit for all the books they read which are not required for school. Not that this should make a difference, but it would perhaps encourage a bit more. ;)


#15 svemaus



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Posted 08 June 2003 - 03:21 AM

Originally posted by diane

The kids of course have to _read_ in order to understand the material they are expected to learn (maths, science, native and foreign language/s, religion, history, geography and music); but they are not really encouraged to read anything above and beyond that.  

You're absolutely right - in Germany, a campaign was started to encourage reading...hope that it will help! :rolleyes:

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