An Interview with Kelly Gallagher: Readicide
Michael F. Shaughnessy - June 5, 2009
Senior Columnist EducationNews.org
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico
In addition to teaching English full-time at Magnolia High School in Anaheim, California, Kelly has an extensive background in secondary literacy education. He served as the English Coordinator for the Anaheim Union High School District, an urban district comprised of 37,000 secondary students; a Co-Director of the South Basin Writing Project at California State University Long Beach; and an adjunct professor at California State University, Fullerton, where he taught secondary literacy courses.
Kelly is a teacher and a former statewide trainer for the Puente Project, a University of California outreach program that prepares under-represented high school students for successful transition into universities. He has also served as a teacher leader in the California Reading and Literature Project, both at the University of California Los Angeles and University of California Irvine.
Kelly is the author of Reading Reasons: Motivational Mini-Lessons for Middle and High School (Stenhouse 2003), Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12 (Stenhouse 2004), Teaching Adolescent Writers (Stenhouse 2006), and, most recently, Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It (Stenhouse 2009). Additionally, his work is the subject of three professional videos: Improving Adolescent Writers (Stenhouse 2009), Building Adolescent Readers (Stenhouse 2005), and Twenty Questions Homework (Stenhouse 2006). In addition to his publications, Kelly travels extensively speaking to education professionals and providing professional development workshops.
In 2005, Kelly received the Award for Classroom Excellence by the California Association of Teachers of English, the state's highest honor for English teachers.
Kelly lives in California with his wife and two daughters. He is a lifelong baseball fan and voracious reader.
The above is taken from his web site at: http://www.kellygallagher.org/about/about.html
In this interview he responds to questions about literacy, reading and his concerns .
1) Kelly, tell us about your latest book Readicide. What prompted you to write this book?
I am a full-time classroom teacher, and though I still have students who like to read, the number of readers in my classroom dwindles with each passing year. I don’t think this fall off in reading is a surprise to most people; what I do think might be a surprise to many, however, is the role schools are playing in killing reading.
2) What ages or grades is it oriented toward?
Sadly, this killing of reading begins in many kindergarten classes and intensifies as students progress to twelfth grade.
3) Has all this testing contributed to its demise?
Testing has had a huge effect in taking the love of reading away from students. Schools are much more interested in producing short-term test takers than they are in producing lifelong readers. In many districts, novels and longer recreational works are being removed from the curriculum and are being replaced with worksheets and other test-prep materials. As a result, students are being flooded with academic reading practice. Recreational reading—the kind of reading we want students to do for the rest of their lives—is being squeezed out of the school day. How would you like it if the only reading you ever did was accompanied by a constant stream of worksheets?
4) Kelly, what can parents do?
Demand that schools never lose sight of the importance of recreational reading. Work hard to ensure that all students have access to interesting reading materials—both at school and at home. Read Readicide and look for the danger signs in your children’s schools. Make sure schools are not sacrificing the love of reading in the name of state assessments.
Parents should also recognize the importance the home environment plays in the development of literate children. Many children who come from print-poor homes enter kindergarten suffering from “word poverty. ” A child’s level of literacy entering kindergarten is a strong indicator of where that child will exit in the twelfth grade. Read and talk to your children as much as possible. Do not allow the television, the computer, and video games to crowd out reading and socialization time. Fathers who find time to take their kids to the ballgame need to also find time to take their kids to the library and to the bookstore. It is a sad fact that a child who comes to school already suffering from word poverty will have a much harder time avoiding the road to readicide.
5) What can teachers do, perhaps in terms of after school assignments?
Establish classroom libraries stocked with non-academic, high quality recreational reading materials. Adopt the “50/50 Approach” I discuss in Readicide—making sure that half the reading you require from your students to be recreational in nature. Students are not reading enough, and one of the reasons is because they are forced to read academic texts chosen by the teacher. There is a value in reading academic text, of course, but students need much more choice when it comes to what they read. Surround them with books they want to read and they will read them.
6) I love to read- yet I have to struggle to find time. How can teachers and parents help kids better manage their time?
Kids have time to watch television. They have time to be on MySpace. They have time to play video games. I know we are living in a harried time, but I don’t think time is the central issue. Prioritizing their time is the central issue.
7) What is your stance on required reading and how do we make sure that kids ARE reading?
I am a strong advocate in required reading. In teaching academic reading (not to be confused with promoting recreational reading), my job is to stretch my students as readers, writers, and thinkers. That is why I am paid to be in the classroom. If my students could read Hamlet on their own, I would hand it to them and meet them in three weeks. The reason I am in the classroom is because they need my guidance if they are to discover the beauty and the value that great books have to offer.
8) I still love the classics- The Three Musketeers- and many others. Should we be requiring more of these classics?
The philosopher Kenneth Burke has said that the reason young people should read books is because books offer them “imaginative rehearsals” for the real world. There is a wisdom to be found in the classics—that’s why they are classics. Even though it is over four hundred years old, there is a wisdom found in 1984—a wisdom one cannot find in the Twilight series. When students read Romeo and Juliet, for example, they are not simply reading a love story. Rather they are being given an opportunity through the literature to examine universal themes and dilemmas (e.g. Can long-term feuds ever really be buried? Is suicide ever a reasonable option? Do you control your own destiny?). Now, more than ever, students need opportunities to wrestle with the moral dilemmas found in great books.
I am a big advocate for teaching the classics. The problem comes, however, when assigned classics become the only reading our students do.
9) What about historical reading? Should we be encouraging kids to read about our country?
Yes, both recreationally and academically. The wider our students read, the better their reading becomes. The better their reading becomes, the wider they will read.
10) Last question, and I have to admit.... I read Twilight...(gasp) I like to see what our current crop of readers are actually reading. It was not a bad book, but it was not exactly Harry Potter, or Charles Dickens. But, at least our kids are reading. What are your thoughts about this dilemma?
All students should wrestle with classic literature, but I am also thrilled when my students get hooked on books like Twilight or Gossip Girls. These books help establish the notion that reading can be a fun, lifelong pursuit. I am not one of those English teachers who harbors dreams of former students stopping me on the street twenty years after I retire to tell me that they finally agree that Simon is a Christ-figure in Lord of the Flies. On the contrary, what would really make me happy would be to run into former students who could talk to me about Malcolm Galdwell’s new book or George Pelecanos’ just-released crime drama. Raising students who become readers is a much more important goal to me than raising my school’s test score five points.
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