First, let me paint a little vision for you:
What you will see at Acton Academy:
- children who are late to group discussions because they cannot put their books down;
- children walking into walls because they are lost in books;
- a tall redhead directing traffic around a reading child.
What you will not see at Acton Academy:
- Required Reading Lists.
Why in the world would we NOT have required reading lists?
Reason #1: They kill the love of reading.
“…reading assignments and reading quizzes and book reports don’t teach our students how to be readers. They teach them that reading is a school-centered activity. That it is a chore. That they aren’t good at it if they can’t remember insignificant plot points. These assignments set students up to cheat, or to fail, and always to regard reading as a drag. This is how we breed kids who say they ‘hate reading.’ The very act itself….You read for its own sake. To learn, to travel, to be spooked or heartbroken or elated. To grow. And when you do this, when reading becomes something that you authentically value, you become a better reader and writer without even trying. You start to reach for more advanced reading material, inferring word meaning, connecting with characters and identifying their growth, interpreting nuances of meaning and symbolism with delight and awe. When you write, your sentence structure becomes more complex and sophisticated. You write with greater imagery. You take emotional risks, understanding that good writing is honest.” (Carolyn Ross, Rutgers University M.A., current high school English teacher)
Reason #2: They say to children: “We don’t trust you.”
Reason #3: Reading for pleasure improves math, writing, and well, life in general.
Reason #4: I’d listen to Heather Staker about anything. Here what she wrote on the subject: http://www.christenseninstitute.org/the-first-principle-of-blended-learning/
This vision I painted is our reality. We are in love with reading. The Acton Eagles are surrounded by wonderful reading choices. We have students who help each other choose what to read next; parents who gently guide the youngest Eagles with what books to bring to school to read; and Guides who help steer students into their reading challenge zones. Students posts their critiques on Goodreads, mark the bookshelves with their “Eagle Picks”, and have book exchanges on Valentine’s Day all to celebrate the act of reading. “Drop Everything And Read” – D.E.A.R. – is a luxurious time built into the elementary school schedule. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we adults indulged so in the middle of a busy day?
I have been in the shoes of the parents who want a school to tell their children what to read or at least take away the comic books. (For me it was to please take away the military weapons books and insert “Anne of Green Gables.”) For those of you leaning in this direction, I hope you will trust me when I say to hang in there, be patient and trust in this environment and these children. (Call me if you need someone talk you down from the ledge of required reading lists. You have my number. Day or night.)
We know that once the love of reading kicks in, it sticks. No one can take this love away from our children. This love will be their best teacher, best friend and faithful liberator in life. And yes, the affair can start on the back of a cereal box.