Canned Reading is probably not the best thing since sliced bread

I often refer to the many reading programs out there as "canned."  These programs come in very neat and attractive packaging, they are linked to every standard you can think of, and have "compendiums" of research attached to prove their effectiveness (some examples are Scholastic's Read 180 program and Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Reader Enterprise.) Some teachers do like them, and I know that over the years these programs have seen many positive improvements.  In many cases the days of "leveled" and color coded books are gone and they now use both classic and modern fiction and non-fiction as their base.

I think the problem with many of these programs is that the kids see it as a task, something to get done rather than to enjoy.  Stephen Krashen argues against this idea when he asserts the claim that "free voluntary reading" is one of the best (if not the best) way to help students with vocabulary acquisition and retention.  The larger question for classroom educators and youth services librarians is how do we blend the two ideas?  School districts have spent thousands of dollars investing in these "canned reading" programss, so its not a good idea to suggest that we can them all together, however I think librarians can help teachers advocate for a more balanced approach.

Furthermore, we need to make sure that the research provided to support such programs is done by independent groups.  It is far to easy to make the numbers look good if you are trying to turn a profit, and we forget that most of these programs come from for-profit, mega-publishing companies.

One idea I have to fix this problem is to separate the ideas in the students minds of reading as a skill and reading for pleasure.  Schools that promote and put time aside for sustained silent reading, (or reading with your ipod in your ears!) might be able to help in this battle.  Teachers need to model this, show enthusiasm for the reading of all types of literature-from fiction to popular magazines.  If we can show young people that "fun" reading will help them with the "skill" of reading, perhaps things would change for the better.

What do you think?  Other ideas?  Creating lifelong readers should be one of the most fulfilling parts of our job, how do we do it?

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