Bookshelves Collecting Dust


photo by Illustration by Bethany Barker

Cartoon image of Alexis Madlang holding her hand up, ready to share her ideas about reading.

Five hundred pages and an in-depth reading report later, the summer reading assignment is finally done. Despite being given two months, the assignment was completed last minute and the material was impossible to understand.
Reading assignments are despised among the student population, especially over break, when it interrupts plans and rest. As students make it through public education, reading has become noticeably more avoidable. It has always been a challenging task because of the pressured environment and ways students have been practicing, whether you have a medical condition like dyslexia or not. The manner in which reading has been taught in school takes the joy and actual learning away.
The problem is not only about basic literacy: Reading for pleasure – to satisfy curiosity and digest new information – has dwindled students’ motivation to read on their own as they advance through public education.
High academic rated schools have built up a pressured environment around student success and expectation. The fact that every time students read something, there is some kind of activity related to the text afterward, is the main reason reading has become unenjoyable. This pertains to informational textbook reading and any fictional or non-fictional assigned books. Instead of reading the whole text, in English, classwork often requires us to find one specific answer or read one certain passage. This is not true reading. Our discussion is for a grade, putting extra pressure to know the right answer, rather than think and analyze for ourselves portion is often marked as classwork.
This translates into when students try to read for enjoyment. Many have wired to read for answers, to have the most efficiency in the fast-paced classrooms. This mental rewiring is similar to “teach the test” strategies used by schools where the curriculum soley revolves around topics that chrome the test and leaves no room for exploration. This tactical approach has taken away creativity from students, which reflects the desire of students not wanting to read on their own.
Consideration for people with dyslexia or vision problems is often overlooked. There is a minority of students who share the same ideas about reading: it is not the work that is an issue, it is the repeated forced assignments with rigorous, unforgiving requirements to meet. Such as workbook pages with multiple questions and charts to fill out. Of course, after reading, highlighting, and annotating the passage prior. After repetitive assignments like this, students have even less chance to read for pleasure, or develop a love for reading.
Even after reading in school for multiple years, students still do not pick up adequate reading skills, due to the restrictive way they are being taught. A similar occurrence happens in Science classes. Since the 6th grade, the very first lesson students are taught is the scientific method. Interestingly enough, there are still some who do not know the difference between a control group, independent and dependent variables, even after four consecutive years of re-learning. If adjustments were made to re-align students struggling to enjoy reading, such as those who have difficulty understanding the scientific method still, there would be an overall success in the learning process, especially when it comes to reading comprehension and the want to read. It is like tweaking a throw or pass to your left-handed teammate in order to help everyone play to the best of their ability.
Rather than being limited to certain material, students should have the opportunity to choose their own books to meet the assignment requirements. This would be a gamechanger. If students were able to choose more frequently, they would not dread having to sit down and read about a topic or story they find painfully boring.
Student interest is key to helping them continue to grow, especially once they leave high school. The school system has to make reading more enjoyable to help those who struggle want to read independently. Of course, there will still be assigned reading and boring chapters, but all teachers should offer some free reading, some choice. Worst thing would be to send graduates out from our top-ranked schools and a sizable portion of them never read on their own again.