Stacey Loscalzo

Sep 04

Required Reading

by Stacey

I’ve been thinking a lot about required reading these days. Perhaps, because I have been chasing my girls around the house with these paper fish, saying “When are you doing to do you fish!?”

The fish came home on the last day of school with a letter from our principal that read in part;

“Each spring I revisit the idea of requiring reading for students and I remain committed to the idea that fostering a love of pleasure reading is crucial. Summertime is a chance for kids to be a bit more unfettered and, while I hope that time includes reading; it will not be a mandate from Somerville.

However, I am encouraging every child to read each and every day this summer. I plan to do the same and visit the library each week with my children. Attached to this letter are 2 fish templates. I ask that each child returns to school with one or both of his/her fist template filled in with the name and title of a book they enjoyed this summer. We will celebrate our reading success on the main board in the front of the school. My goal is to have one fish for every Somerville student in Grades 1-5.”

Now I must say that I love our principal. I mean, I seriously love her. She is smart and caring and truly committed to the education and the happiness of each student that walks through the doors of her school.

I will say, though, that I wasn’t feeling the love as I chased the girls around with these darn fish. Last summer, as I wrote about in this post, this same wonderful principal required no reading at all. I wonder what changed. And when I was running around the house with fish templates, I was really wondering.

You see, my girls read voraciously this summer. Caroline continued her pattern of reading at least a book a day. Katherine and I read together every day, always a chapter book read aloud and often an easy reader to give Katherine the chance to develop her own independent reading skills. So, the fish felt, to me at least, a bit unnecessary. And that would be the word I would use when I was in a good mood about them.

I come back again and again to this concept of required reading and reading logs and reading responses. Kids who love reading, will read without these trappings. And completing these things will only make kids who don’t like to read all the more annoyed by the process.

As has happened so often this summer as Katherine and I make our way through the Ramona series, Ramona captured my thoughts exactly in a passage we read last night.

Beverly Cleary writes,

When time came for everyone to Drop Everything and Read, she sat quietly doing her Sustained Silent Reading.

How peaceful it was to be left alone in school. She could read without trying to hide her book under her desk or behind a bigger book. She was not expected to write lists of words she did not know, so she could figure them out by skipping and guessing. Mrs. Whaley did not expect the class to write summaries of what they read either, so she did not have to choose easy books to make sure she would get her summary right. Now if Mrs. Whaley would leave her alone to draw, too, school would be almost perfect.

It’s good to know that Mrs. Quimby might have hard time getting her little readers to fill out there fish too…



  1. sara says:

    oh stacey, if you came down here to raleigh, your blood would start to boil. our elementary school has a contest to see how many pages the kids can read in the summer. the top student in each class gets to go to an ice cream party, the top reader in each grade is recognized with a certificate, and the top 3 overall school “winners” are awarded fairly large prizes.
    there are discussions among parents about how this is patently unfair; how can you equate 10 pages of harry potter that a 3rd grader reads with 10 pages of an “i can read book” with pictures that a kindergartner reads? it also sparks an insane amount of competition. i listened to my son and his friend in the car the other day as they talked about how they hoped a certain girl didn’t wind up in their class this year simply because she was the top reader in the grade last year. (she would likely squash their chances of attending the ice cream party.) the conversation then went to how many pages of their reading log each boy had documented. and right before i opened my mouth to talk about how it shouldn’t be a competition, and how wonderful it was that they were reading this summer, i realized that it would fall on deaf ears. because our school is conveying a message that’s exactly the opposite.
    i applaud the intention behind the program. and i suppose it it gets a child to read who normally wouldn’t pick up a book, then all is not lost. still, the whole thing fires me up a bit.

  2. Stacey says:

    Oh my goodness! This is making me feel quite lucky. I can’t imagine if we had to log pages over the summer and where then rewarded! That would completely ruin reading for me and the girls! Yuck!

  3. Zoe says:

    Stacey, Sara, I would LOVE it if my girls’ school even thought to suggest kids might read over the summer – it doesn’t even occur to them to suggest a visit to the library. This sends out a message that reading (especially for pleasure) just isn’t valued, that reading is all about phonics and is for classroom time only.

  4. […] Yesterday, I ranted a bit about required reading and how my girls, as readers, take issue with it. They read all the time and are annoyed when they have to record their minutes read or list the titles of the books they enjoyed. They just want to enjoy their books. They want to do the things that grown ups do when they read. And when grown ups read, they often talk about and share books with their friends. This is true, authentic, meaningful reading. […]

  5. Stacey says:

    Wow Zoe! What a different perspective and a good reminder. In the midst of all the nuttiness, there is a solid belief in the importance of books and reading.

  6. jules says:

    I love this post (and I really love the one with 2011 note from the principal).

    I actually just gave up this past summer—gave up altogether and with no guilt attached this time—on the public library’s summer reading program. We read so much that it is a pain to stop and note/log the books we read — all for some sort of prize or another when the real prize to us is the wonderful stories we’re reading. I just don’t need it, nor do we have time for it. (Too busy reading!)

    I have a friend who runs a public library in New York state, and she does NOT do these summer reading programs with prizes, etc. She is my HERO for doing this. She tells Taco Bell (or whoever) “no” every year when they call about coupons or sending a stuffed commercial WHATEVER over to story times. (I once did volunteer storytelling at my library’s summer reading program, but I had to share the storytelling space for the first ten minutes with a giant stuffed cow from Chick-Fil-A. Really? I’ve got this great folk tale and felt board characters and a giant felt board, and I’ve worked on this for weeks—this wonderful, timeless tale for the kids—but the giant stuffed cow has to first hand out coupons for the terribly unhealthy fries? Is reading SO BORING and so onerous that we have to tantalize the poor children with chicken nuggets? I remember standing there awkwardly with the mute cow and re-writing, in my head and off the cuff, this old children’s song I know to involve a COW, since the stupid cow was standing there, just staring.)

    So that librarian friend of mine just says no no no, I will have none of that. (Stacey, I can introduce you two; you’d LOVE each other.) And she does her summer reading program in other, more authentic ways. Did I mention she’s my hero?

    I’m probably rambling. Sorry! I love your blog. You keep on keepin’ on!

  7. jules says:

    p.s. I realize you’re talking about public schools in your post, and I’m talking about public libraries, but it’s the same root problem: Subtly (or not-so subtly) communicating to children that reading is so onerous that we must entice them in other ways.

  8. Stacey says:

    Jules- I think I know just the librarian you are talking about and I’d love to meet her! Your story about the darn cow is too much- it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad!! Why reading needs all these bells and whistles attached to it, I will never know. It’s not like we reward our children for playing at the playground during the summer or going to the pool- just crazy! And you know I love your rambling- no apologies here!

  9. nora says:

    I love, love, love your blog. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I KNOW that rewarding and punishing activities that are inherently joyful for children (and adults too!) can make those very activities repellent and cause folks to go to great lengths to minimize or avoid them. It is beyond frustrating to me when schools or libraries tie meaningless prizes to reading for pleasure, or in the case of “the fish template”, add a boring “busywork” task (which to some children will FEEL like being punished). This is why I buy as many used copies of Alfie Kohn’s excellent “Punished by Rewards” as I can find, to give away to those who persist in the defense of these kind of programs. Keep up the good work–I’ll be reading your blog regularly!

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