Tuesday, January 20, 2009

BLOG TOUR: Kelly Gallagher Joins Us Discussing His New Book READICIDE

Today, Kelly Gallagher begins his Blog Tour with a stop at A YEAR OF READING to discuss his new book READICIDE: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. We reviewed the book here last week and hope that many of you had a chance to check it out at Stenhouse. A much needed book at a time when testing seems to be controlling so much of what we do in our schools.

We had a chance to talk with Kelly about his new book. And many of you had additional questions that you sent in after we reviewed READICIDE last week.

What made you write this book? How did you get to the point that you felt that you needed to write?
The idea for Readicide came out of my own classroom, where I have noticed that the number of students who like to read dwindles with each passing year. The only reading many of my students do is school-mandated reading—and frankly they don’t do academic reading very well. For the most part, my students can read text on a literal level, but when you ask them to think a bit deeper—to evaluate, to analyze, to synthesize—they really struggle. My current seniors have been under the NCLB testing gun for six years now, and beyond struggling when it comes to reading academic texts, they have lost their desire to read recreationally. In chasing test scores, we are killing the love of reading. We may succeed in raising our test scores, but we pay a large price to do so. The sad part, of course, is we have spent $1 billion on Reading First programs, and the students in this program did not score any better in comprehension than students who did not participate in the program at all.

Readicide is also influenced by the number of great teachers across this country who have shared their horror stories with me. The elimination of novels. Drowning students in worksheets. Scripted programs. Think about it. If you had to do what our students have to do, would you like reading?

What are you hoping that this book will accomplish?
To raise the consciousness of curriculum directors, administrators, and teachers. Most educators I know have a genuine desire to do what is best for our children. I am hoping that this book will start a conversation—a conversation about what the latest research has to say about developing the critical thinking regions of our brains, a conversation about how shallow assessments drive shallow thinking from our students, a conversation about how our classroom practices may actually be contributing to the role of readicide.

I want educators to ask themselves an important question: In the quest to raise test scores, am I damaging the long-term prospects of my students becoming lifelong readers? I hope the book generates hard talk between educators.

How would you prioritize the work we have to do?
First, the evidence is very clear: our students are simply not reading and writing enough. The National Commission on Writing recently noted that our students should be writing twice as much as they are currently writing, across all content areas. A number of studies have indicated that students are simply not getting enough reading practice. You have to play a lot of piano before you can play the piano, and you have to do a lot of reading and writing before you can read and write. Let’s put this question on the front burner: are our students reading and writing enough?

Second, the cliché is true: if you teach students to read and write well, they will do fine on tests. However, if you only teach students to take tests, they will never read and write well. We need to challenge them with the kind of reading and writing experiences that foster deeper thinking. As teachers, we need to move beyond being information dispensers and focus on getting our kids to be thinkers. This is not possible in a sea of worksheets.

Another thought: we cannot lose sight of the value of recreational reading (the kind of reading we want students to do the rest of their lives). Academic reading is important, but when schools emphasize only academic reading, recreational reading gets lost. Students need much larger doses of light reading, stupid reading, amusing reading—the kinds of reading that we, as adults, do when we are not at school. Schools who graduate good test takers who never read again are not doing anyone any favors.

How do you get these conversations going with teachers you work with?
Someone has to be the discussion director on your campus and in your district. I am fortunate in that I am in my 23rd year at my school, and I have a strong professional relationship with the staff on my campus. To be honest, however, I have not done as much as I would like with my own staff. This is due in large part, frankly, to having an administration that has not been real interested in doing the hard work required to implement authentic reading and writing. Fortunately, I have a new principal this year, so I am hoping this sets the table for real dialogue.

What do you suggest for teachers who feel like they are the one person who is carrying the flag for authentic reading?
Arm yourself with the research found in Readicide and in other places (see Kellygallagher.org for some of these studies). Make it your mission to get one other teacher to see the light. Start a “school-within-a-school” movement. Ask to share some of the research on staff development days. Share your concerns with administrators, board members, and newspaper editorial staffs.
If you really are the Lone Ranger at your site, never lose site of what is best for your students. Resist the political in favor of the authentic.

What are the most important things you could do with teachers in a very short period of time (at staff meeting)?
Discuss the importance that assessment plays in developing deeper readers and writers. Earlier in my career, Jim Cox, who is a guru in assessment, heavily influenced me. Jim reminds teachers to never forget WYTIWYG (pronounced “witty-wig”), which stands for What You Test Is What You Get. If your assessment is shallow, it will drive shallow thinking. If your assessment is rich, it will drive richer thinking.

I always teach to a test. The key is teaching to a test that drives deeper thinking. When teachers spend hour upon hour preparing students for shallow tests, the effects are devastating. Test scores may rise, but in the process we are denying students the opportunity to develop the regions of their brains that are crucial to them becoming deeper thinkers. I would ask teachers to carefully consider their assessments. Do they drive deeper thinking? Let’s start there and work backwards.

From Dani in NC: Accelerated Reader program made me feel validated as a parent. I have seen firsthand how it has negatively affected each of my kids' opinions of reading over the years. Although AR is strongly emphasized here, it isn't part of their grade so I finally gave my kids permission to forget about it. Three of them have a renewed passion for books, but I still have one daughter who has become a reluctant reader and I don't know if I can change that.

Kelly:  Regarding AR, I think the first thing parents can do is challenge the school’s decision to use the program. Ask to see justification—studies that indicate that there is a long-term benefit from using the program. Share the McQuillan study (and others) cited in Readicide. Ask administrators what we are really teaching kids about reading when we tie all their reading activity to earning points from shallow multiple-choice assessments.
That said, both of my daughters were subjected to AR in school and survived as readers. However, they were already avid readers before being subjected, and they were surrounded by high-interest reading materials at home. This is not the case for many of the students under the AR treatment.

From Kathy:  I do have a question for him, even though I have not read the book, I would love to know his opinion on a school having a well stocked (and that also means have a certified media specialist in there) media center and if he thinks that has an impact on students reading.

Kelly:  It is critical that every campus has a well-stocked library with a librarian/media specialist. I know there have been studies that have found a correlation between the quality of a school’s library collection and its test scores. Libraries, and librarians, are the core of any school. My librarian is particularly helpful when it comes to finding books for my students that fit a particular theme or unit. She also helps by doing a number of book talks.
That said, I have also found that establishing a classroom library—where students have daily access to interesting books—may be the most important thing I have done as a teacher. Students need to be surrounded by books every day. It has been my experience that it is extraordinarily difficult to turn my reluctant readers on to reading by taking periodical trips to the library. For maximum effectiveness, I have found it better to bring the books to the students.

Kelly has a busy week--touring at several blogs for the next several days.

Just like band groupies, we know that some of us will follow Kelly to each of the spots on his blog tour.


  1. Great job, gals! I had really hoped to look over the book and submit a question... but this was great!

  2. I love this topic and I am glad to have such a great reference to support my ideas when the topic arises. I am excited for the rest of the tour.

  3. I can't wait to read this book. Having a son in first grade I see he has too many worksheets about reading and writing, and not enough reading and writing going on. I also see my mother, a first grade teacher, who has A LOT of reading and writing of all kinds going on every day. She also emphasizes the meaning in reading, which is the whole point whether it be to learn or just laugh!The information and recommendations are out there--but getting the teachers to use it is the problem. I hope this book helps.

    Another difficult part is getting the parents to have that literate home environment, but in order to do that, they have to like reading themselves!

  4. Outstanding interview! I will spread the word about this book, that's for sure!

  5. Is this a Kelly Gallagher quote:
    "The more you read the better you read; the better you read the longer you stay in school; the longer you stay in school; the longer you stay in school; the more money you will make; the more money you make the less likely your family will live in poverty."

    Sandy from Sioux Falls


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