Reading nightmares exist at many different levels. There are nightmares at the national and state levels. There are nightmares within the field of reading education, and with teachers across all subject areas. This is a key point in the article “Exploring reading nightmares of middles and secondary school teachers” by William P. Bintz.
At the national and state levels, research indicates that students experience a declining interest and slowing development in reading from the seventh grade on (Farr, Fay, Myers , & Ginsberg, 1987). They “demonstrate gains in reading during the early years, these gains seem to taper off in the middle and upper grades, and decline during the high school years.” (Chall 4)
Many studies give strength to this argument that reading nightmares occur nationally. They show that students have difficulty with tasks requiring interpretations of what they read, that students do little, if any, reading in school and for homework, and that there is a decline in reading skills amongst 12th graders. (Bintz 13). Goodland (1984) believes that this problem may exist because of the relationship between time spent on reading instruction and the decline in reading abilities. He points out that “reading occupies only approximately 6% of class time in elementary school, 3% in junior High school, and 2% in senior high school. “ (p 106-107). It is noted that 8th grade students watch TV, on average, almost 22 hours per week. They read for less than 2. (Humphrey 23).
Reading instruction, as a field of study, is also ripe with nightmares. Too often, educators make assumptions about reading and its’ instruction. These include “(a) Reading instruction is primarily, if not exclusively, the role of elementary, not middle and secondary school teachers; and (b) reading is an isolated skill; once mastered in the elementary grades students require no further instruction.” (Bintz 14)
As Burnett is keen to show, these attitudes are changing, but slowly. Teachers on the secondary level are still hesitant to get involved in reading instruction. They see themselves as teachers of content. But, perhaps, as Summers states, maybe the content area teachers are hesitant because they, along with many language arts teachers, aren’t properly trained to provide reading instruction.
Regardless of content area, all teachers are seeing the same nightmares. Bintz categorizes these as either student based, teacher based, textbook based or someone else’s problem. According to a cross section of teachers, students either can’t read , or are passive and reluctant to read. Many teachers feel that other teachers are the teachers of reading, not themselves. Some also feel that textbooks are often written at levels that are too complex and that are strictly content driven, if not downright boring. If not that problem, many teachers feel that “ a single textbook cant … accommodate … students wide range of reading abilities.” (Bintz 21)
Although this article is ripe with the nightmares of reading, it is not barren of solution possibilities. To sum them up, Bintz points out that colleges and universities must rethink the role of reading education within the teacher curriculum. Elementary, junior and senior high schools need to help themselves by intentionally and systematically making reading a high priority with students and teachers. Also, they need to help students and teachers change their perceptions of reading in order to create a new reality that sees reading less as a nagging problem, and more as a tool for learning and thinking.
As we had discussed in class the first week, it is evident that we all experience these nightmares. It seemed that our small group fit in very well with what Bintz is saying. We all have reading nightmares, and they are all similar. All of the comments in the article from teachers about their nightmares rang true with a lot of the things that people said in our discussions.
Mr. Bintz did get into some detail about trying to solve this problem. He didn’t, though, address what I feel are the two biggest obstacles to making reading instruction a priority. They are apathy and funding. It isn’t necessary to go into details about the difficulties of providing funding for new programs. Apathy we can comment about. As a teacher in one of the poorest high schools in Brooklyn, I am constantly reminded of the apathy of students, parents, and, unfortunately, teachers. Our administration does try to make reading a priority. We have a 20 minute period everyday (instead of a homeroom) that we call RAG (Read and Grow) time. The students are supposed to read a non-school book. Too often, I hear the teachers mock this time. I have also heard that our union insists that we shouldn’t have to enforce the reading period, because that becomes an extra ‘teaching’ period. I am not certain if that is true, but I am certain that I heard teachers discussing this. I have also called home to parents to explain RAG time, and to ask why their children refuse to read, and I get the same dumbfounded answers I get from the kids. This leaves me in quite a quandary. I am certainly untrained as a reading teacher. Being a first year teacher, I am untrained in many of the pedagogical skills. How am I to combat this ? I guess that my aspirations for the information that I would get from this article were too high, and that can only lead to being let down. I had hoped to be enlightened on how I can help these kids gain the love for reading that I have.
As my aspirations were high, the first reading of this article left me feeling like it was incomplete. After going through it over and over again, I found that this article is very well written, and gives a clear foundation for more study. It is refreshing to know that I am not alone with my nightmares. Seeing that it isn’t just in inner city Brooklyn, or even only in lower socioeconomic areas gives me hope that this is a problem that, with time, we can cure.
Bintz, William P. (1997) Reading nightmares of middle and secondary school teachers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 12-24
Burnett, R.W. (1966) Reading in the secondary school. Issues and Innovations. Journal of Reading 322-332
Chall (1983) Literacy Trends and explanations. Educational Researcher, 12(9) 3 – 8
Farr, Fay, Myers, & Ginsberg (1987) Then and now, Reading achievement in Indiana (1944-45, 1976 and 1986) Bloomington, IN Center for Reading and Language Studies. School of Education, Indiana University
Humphrey (1992a) A study of reading in Indiana middle, junior and senior high schools. A publication of the Indiana Youth Institute. Occasional Paper No. 4 Evansville, IN Middle Grades Network, University of Evansville
Summers, E. (1965) A suggested integrated reading outline for teacher education courses in secondary reading.Journal of Reading, 9, 93-105