This year, the school district that is closest to our library has purchased the, “Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell” leveled reading system. Many an anxious parent has come to the Children’s department of our library clutching the book lists they received from their school asking for specific books from the list. Asking for specific book titles is just fine. We librarians help people all the time with finding the specific title patrons want. The problem comes in when a leveled reading program provides a list to a school with no regard for if these books are available at a public library. The school cannot buy all the books on the list, so logically, they recommend that families try their public library, but many of the books I’ve tried to help find are out-of-print, or no library in our 82 library consortium owns a copy.
I do not send these parents away empty-handed. I offer them a comparable book that most likely will fit the criteria they are looking for and they seem satisfied. Of course there is the overzealous parent that wants only a book from the list, and maybe that directive comes from an overzealous teacher. Teachers are under a lot of pressure these days to use the expensive tools that their district buys in hopes of complying with local, state and national teaching directives and every year it seems that these directives are added onto. In addition, there’s a great deal of overall anxiety about making sure children have the tools to compete in this sluggish economy. Reading skill will determine much of that success down the road. But what about reading for the joy of it? I’m afraid this very important lesson is being shoved aside in the desire to “leave no child behind.”
If there is no joy in reading, there will be no continuous reading progression. It takes work to become a skilled reader, but if the work of reaching that goal doesn’t have even a drop of joy, then it becomes a Sisyphus task to gain reading facility. How did the young patron who comes in excitedly telling me that they stayed up all night to finish a book get the drive to do that? It is because that patron somehow absorbed the notion that to read is to experience something so fun, so joyful, that it is worth being sleep-deprived. I doubt very much that they remember or give credit to whatever leveled reading program was in place when they were first learning to read for that.
There have been many “ways” over the decades that have produced literate people and I understand that there must be some sort of way to teach reading. Leveled reading programs are just one way. They are not the only way, nor even the best way, if there is such a thing. Let’s just make sure that our newly minted readers know that there’s a benefit to reading that is far and away the highest benefit: an abiding joy in the written word. Let’s find a way to teach that.