Tie And Jeans

Strong Readers and Those Who Read

This is the first of two vacation reflections about identification, about the gap between an activity and the identity.  First up is “reader”

The eldest of the young cousins** was complaining about school and summer reading, in a tone exclusive to 7th graders two days clear of school. “It’s so stupid, because I read at a 1050, and that means I have to read books that are 1100 or harder, and there just aren’t any!” In that instant, Lexile Rank invades my vacation.

Teased out of the adolescent run-on, the middle school Catch-22 as follows. Young cousin must read two books over the summer, one fiction and one non-fiction, of the appropriately challenging Lexile rank. However, the diagnostic testing has placed him at a reading level several hundred points above all the common/popular/interesting books that he read in 7th grade. Books suggested by adults don’t’ have readily available Lexile scores, and the few that do score surprisingly low. With a straight face, he’ll proclaim that his reading level “is like a 12th grader” and then finish the sentence with “and that means there’s no books for me to read.”

ASIDE: Lexile, as an algorithm, is dumb. Huckleberry Finn scores in the 980, Prince and the Pauper is an 840, but Mrs. freakin’ PiggleWiggle is 1070? Lexile scores are completely content blind, biasing it to non-fiction with esoteric vocabulary that’s dry as dirt and unsuitable for a 12 year old. Whatever value teachers may have found from Lexile as an analysis tool is completely lost in this craptastic sea of third-order effects.

The easter egg hunt for worthwhile books in this arbitrary Lexile range occupied Jodi for an angry hour. But when I asked the cousin what books he wanted to find, his only answer was “hard.” In this scrum, he’s lost any sense of the books he loves and has seized on the struggle (in middle school terms, the completely hopeless impossible struggle!) of finding books “hard enough to challenge me.”  He’s been compromised, infected by toxic language of schooliness.

Instead of a passionate, voracious reader we have instead a hollow “strong reader” who never picks up a book.

**I’m an only child, so T_ is actually my cousin’s eldest. But family ranks are stupid, and family ranks below aunt/uncle/cousin exponentially so. Everyone’s cousins. Deal.

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5 thoughts on “Strong Readers and Those Who Read

  1. This is a familiar and frustrating story. There’s nothing that makes reading a more miserable experience than AR programs, lexile ranges, and/or the need to get parent/teacher approval.

    Lately, I’ve interacted more with upper school students, so I don’t see this quite as much. However, they have their own conundrum: no time to read for fun.

    • tieandjeans on said:

      When would that have developed the read for fun habit? When would they have derived enough enjoyment from reading to prioritize it?

      Essentially, when would they have started to identify as “readers” ?

      • These are good questions, and there are probably “correct” answers to be found in the research of scholars and data. I don’t have those answers though. When do kids identify as makers or gamers or anything else. I think (“I think” is not authoritative, I know) kids have fun reading, or building, or making, or playing video games long before they attach these activities to their identity.

        It’s my thinking that reading for fun starts early, and “reading for fun” probably depends on the attitudes of the adults towards the books kids read. My son will be 4 in November. He loves books. He loves the library. I try to pick out books based on his interests: trains, butterflies, cars, airplanes, rhyming language, etc. I’ll slip in other stuff too. Sometimes it takes, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s ok. I loved reading as a kid too (and still do), because I had the freedom to choose. Maybe I blocked it out, but I don’t remember there being any accelerated reading programs. I don’t remember my parents, teachers, or librarians telling me that something was too easy or too hard.

        Screw the lexile ranges and the arbitrary adult-created criteria that makes a book “challenging.” “Challenging” is different for each student, and the challenge of a book doesn’t always involve big words or complex sentences. If a book moves a kid or makes a kid rethink where he/she stands or makes a kid laugh, then that’s awesome. And that should be enough.

        If your cousin is hell-bent on being challenged (and good for him for pushing himself!), find out what subjects he’s really interested in and go from there. A challenging book on a topic that the reader cares nothing about is likely to be abandoned.

        I’d go on about how audiobooks and comics are poo-pooed, but I think this comment is long enough.

  2. I suggest Hornblower novels for fun these days. Not much read any more but still worthwhile. Nonfiction? How about Liars Poker or other books about financial collapse? Boomerang, similar story. Complex stories of bad and good people doing weird stuff for money.

  3. Pingback: In Another Place · When It Comes to Reading: No More Guilty Pleasures

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