Why aren’t more kids reading? One observer says our focus on analysis seems to overshadow the organic enjoyment of storytelling.
Katherine Marsh, writing in the Atlantic notes how many parents express concern that their children don’t read the way they used to. The decline in children reading for fun can be attributed to various factors. Screen usage and pandemic-related learning loss are big ones. However, a significant reason lies in how our education system approaches teaching kids to relate to books.
I remember being mesmerized when our teacher read us MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN aloud. She performed a chapter a day in the classroom. I ended up checking the book out in the library to find out what happened in the story.
Marsh says that today, the heavy focus on analytical reading is sidelining the joy of stories. We are shifting from connecting with characters to intense analysis. This politically driven focus on Common Core standards and assessments, leaves little room to inspire a love of reading among students.
The trend continues into middle school. Class read-alouds and the exploration of entire plots are often sacrificed for detailed passage analysis. This approach leaves students associating reading with assessment rather than the emotional fulfillment of reaching a story’s climax.
When I wrote JULIETTE AND THE MYSTERY BUG, I engaged a university college of education to help me craft lesson plans. Two superlatively gifted teachers articulated the analytical depth with which elementary kids dissect each story, from grammar and syntax to the cultural perspective of the author and how it might be offensive.
Talk about destroying the joy of discovery.
Marsh suggests educators should be given the freedom to teach in ways that excite and challenge students. Instead of just analyzing passages, students should be encouraged to engage with books the way they do with “fun” series, video games, and TV shows.
I learned a lot about writing compelling stories by analyzing what made the classics good. But that came later, after I fell in love with the joy of reading in that elementary school class. We rush our kids through their youth, often truncating the discovery which lives in experiential immersion.
I’m not sure how my dad, the quintessential educator would feel about all this. My gut tells me he would encourage children to experience the intrinsic pleasure of reading. Emotional connections with characters along a narrative journey can rekindle the joy of literary discovery.
There’s a time, a place and a way to teach media literacy and analysis. Perhaps that comes after we allow kids to taste the sweetness of the fruit before dissecting what’s inside.