An Interview on Readicide with Kelly Gallagher

By now, you’re probably aware of the incredible opportunitythat the Radical Nation has starting on January 14th:  Noted reading expert—–and full time classroom teacher—–Kelly Gallagher will be joining us for a focused four-day conversation on his new book Readicide:  How schools are killing reading and what you can do to stop it.

A link to the complete text of Readicidewill be made available on the Radical on January 14th and our asynchronous conversation with Kelly will take place from January 18th to January 22nd.  That means you can join in a collective dialogue about teaching and learning at times that are convenient to you—and that everyone from Manitoba to Malaysia is invited. 

Geography just doesn’t matter in a digital conversation, does it?  All that you have to do is curl up on the couch and jump into the conversation!    

 

Knowing how powerful the conversation will be—and knowing how impatient I am as a person!—I took a few minutes to interview Kelly.  Figured I’d share his answers here as a bit of a teaser for his book and our conversation.  They might just convince you that stopping by next week is an opportunity that you just can’t miss: 

Ferriter:  Throughout Readicide, you talk about how reading instruction in American classrooms has changed, responding to today’s demands for accountability and testing. How has instruction in your own classroom changed during the past two decades? Have you ever buckled under the pressure of preparing kids for the test?

Gallagher:In the middle of my career I was heavily influenced by Jim Cox, who is a guru in assessment. 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.

The key, then, is teaching to a test that will drive 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. Worse, we are teaching students that reading is an activity we do primarily to prepare for exams. Recreational reading—the kind of reading we want students to do long after they graduate—is killed.


That said, I do believe there is a value in learning how to take multiple-choice exams. I think all students should be taught test-taking strategies. To completely ignore them would place our students at a disadvantage.

However, this type of preparation should not take the place of deeper, more authentic instruction. Augmenting the curriculum is a very different notion than becoming the curriculum. If you teach students to read and write well, they will do fine on the state tests. However, if you only teach students to take the state tests, they will never learn to read and write well. Knowing this reduces the pressure we feel to prepare students for the tests.

Ferriter:  One of the themes that runs through Readicide is the need for teachers to take a stand against irresponsible instruction. You even go as far as to argue that failing to take a stand against Readicide is downright unconscionable. How are teachers responding to that message? Do you think it is easier for you to take a stand because you’re a respected author?

Gallagher:  When teachers see what recent brain research says about the testing movement, when they see that test scores on NAEP and other assessments have remained stagnant, when they see that the $1 billion spent on Reading First did not produce test scores that were any higher than students who did not participate in the program, when they see the dwindling number of students who still read for enjoyment, then they are open to hearing what I have to say about Readicide.

I teach high school students, and it has become obvious as the years pass that my students are becoming less adept at what I call deeper reading. They can read, they can search and find information, they can cut and paste, but if you ask them to evaluate, analyze, or synthesize, they really struggle.

These are students who have been under NCLB for six years and it shows.

Teachers want to do what¹s best for their students. If we don¹t stand up for our students, who will? I would be taking the same stand even if I had never written a book.

Ferriter:  What advice would you give to us “regular folk” who know that something is wrong but who aren’t sure what levers to use to drive change? How can we become the kinds of powerful advocates for responsible reading practices that you argue for in Readicide?

Gallagher: Change begins in your own classroom. Keep WYTIWYG in the forefront of your mind. Start a “school-within-a-school” with like-minded teachers. Meet regularly to discuss your classroom practices. Don¹t forget what I refer to in Readicide as the “50-50 approach.”

What I mean by this is that half the reading our students should be doing is recreational in nature. Don¹t let reading for fun get crowded out. Fight against novels being replaced by test prep materials. Explore what you can do to build book floods in your classrooms (more on this in my first book, Reading Reasons).

Outside your classroom, share the research found in Readicide and on my website (kellygallagher.org) with administrators, curriculum directors, board members, and other decision makers. Write to newspapers. Take the lead in raising the consciousness of the key players in your system.

Ferriter:  Any last thoughts? If you could say one thing to the readers of my blog—who are primarily highly motivated teacher leaders and influential members of their school communities, what would it be?

Gallagher:  It was interesting that in the previous question you recognize that teachers know something is wrong. Exactly. Something is wrong. But “wrong” in this arena can have devastating consequences for our students and for our culture.

It is my hope that Readicide provides an opening for some hard talk—talk that will lead to better reading and writing instruction for our students. What good does it do to raise reading scores if in the process we kill any prospects our students have of becoming lifelong readers? We need to move away from political purposes and keep our focus on authentic purposes.

Remember—you can join Kelly and a growing handful of other Radical readers for an in-depth conversation on reading instruction starting on January 14th.  Sure hope to hear your voice.

5 comments

  1. Sarah

    I am with Karen. We don’t have D.E.A.R., but I try to leave time for reading in class because if I don’t, one student per class might do his oer her homework on a good day. I’ve tried everything, as well. When I read to them, or they read aloud, I spend my time doing the same things: stopping disruptive students. Even in classes where the kids know they are in jeopardy of failing and aren’t being disruptive, they aren’t focusing, either. S.S.R. time hardly works, because if I don’t guide them with questions, they don’t focus, and if I do, they are in search mode, which isn’t conducive to “getting lost” in a book. How I wish I had the answers. 🙁

  2. Karen

    I teach in a high school that is actually trying to change the way kids feel about reading. We have Drop Everything and Read three times a week for 45 minutes – and the majority of the students HATE it! Its so difficult to get them to even try reading something for pleasure.
    I spend much of the class trying to refocus the students and get disruptive students to put away their cell phones which they use to either text each other to meet in the bathroom or to watch youtube.
    I’ve tried reading to them, having them read children’s books to first graders, writing children’s books, and I’m about to start literature circles but its the hardest 45 minutes of my day, 3 times a week.

  3. LaDawna

    I am a teacher librarian in NJ and I completely agree that schools are not considering their best resources – the teacher librarian in helping teachers switch kids onto reading. Additionally a school library may be the only library a child might experience because they don’t have a family structure that gives them access to books at the public library. The school library touches every single child and our national standards begin with the common belief that reading is the window to the world. I help run a parent/child book club, have lunch in the library programs, celebrate poetry, reading, storytelling and so many other initiatives that help to inspire my students to love reading. Recreational reading CANNOT be overlooked.

  4. Kate Taggart

    I am also a Teacher-Librarian in London, Ontario. Prior to that I was the department head of English at the same school. In both roles, I have worked in partnership with teachers, trying to shift our appraoch to reading instruction and recreational reading in our school. Our new approach to reading started with our former librarian, now retired, and our application of Stephen Krashen’s book, The Power of Reading. When I discovered Kelly Gallagher’s Reading Reasons, I just had to share his book with as many teachers in our school as would listen. The discouraging thing is, every year is a challenge to keep our reading program going as it is, with the changes in teaching staff and principals. I find that I sometimes feel alone with the beliefs that I share with Gallagher’s books. His and Krashen’s ideas are true and do work, though, so I continue approaching reading with students as I have now for about seven years. It’s more beneficial and enjoyable for everyone! I look forward to reading Gallagher’s new book.

  5. Sharon McGuinness

    I have read ‘Readicide’ and applaud many of the comments made by Mr Gallagher. As a teacher librarian in Australia, ensuring our school library is stocked with a wide variety of reading material that my students will enjoy reading is of paramount importance. The link between a well resourced school library, a qualified teacher librarian and student achievement is well proven. Often schools overlook one of their best resources – the teacher librarian in helping teachers switch kids onto reading. The public library also plays a vital role – particularly during summer which, as Mr Gallagher notes,is when student reading drops off. Many public libraries hold summer reading initiatives which aim to keep that interest bubbling away. Teacher librarians, school and public libraries play a vital role in avoiding readicide. How well does your children’s school library shape up? Is it well resourced? Does your child’s school employ a qualified teacher librarian who is well placed to match child to book? Does your public library employ a childrens/young adult librarian? If not, why not?