This weekend I read a post called Kindles, Nooks and eReaders - or Paper Books? by Savita Kalhan at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure (the group blog of some UK-based authors). Kalhan shares the story of "a very large school" that recently invested in eReaders for all year seven, eight, and nine students. Here's the part that got me:
"The school has preloaded each eReader with a total of eighteen books for the school year. It also preloads subject specific word banks, revision tools, and other tasks to support work in lessons and out of school.
Interesting, although the school allows its pupils to read paper books, all their form reading time and reading in English lessons must be on the eReader. Even more interestingly, pupils require a permission note from the parent to bring a paper book to school!"
Now, I think there are arguments to be made for and against eReaders in general. This school administration apparently felt that the benefits of being able to look up words easily while kids are reading outweighed any disadvantages of using eReaders vs. print books. This may or may not be true. But they pre-loaded the devices with 18 titles each! I currently have 117 mostly unread titles on my Kindle (because I remove books after I read them). And I still find myself adding new titles all the time, especially before I travel, to make sure that I have enough books to choose from. How could anyone restrict kids, for their in-school reading, to choosing from such a small number of titles? Titles that someone else picked in the first place. Who could possibly think that this would be a good idea?
Coincidentally I noticed this remark from Katherine Sokolowski on a blog post on the same day. Katherine will moving from teaching fifth grade to teaching seventh grade at a different school, and said:
"My biggest challenge of the moment is how to take my classroom library of 3500 books and sort it. Books that are really not for 7th graders will stay, I want to leave the person taking over for me something to start with. But how to even begin? I have no idea. "
That's right: "my classroom library of 3,500 books." Of course not every student is lucky enough to have a teacher who assembles a library of this magnitude. But I wish they did. I wish more teachers were like Katherine.
Anyway Savita Kalhan has more to say about these eReaders in her post, and there are some thoughtful comments there already. But to me, the central point is: you can't restrict the reading choice of kids, and then expect them to end up as avid readers.
In a related incident, I shared a less-than-positive experience regarding my daughter's book reports on Facebook last week. [That will be a topic for another day.] One of my friends commented that her issue was that her granddaughter is only allowed to read books in school that are at her grade level. So this 11-year-old is not being allowed to read Coraline, which she really wants to read, because that book is for 8th graders.
My feeling on that you should let kids read books that they are excited about. If a book is truly too difficult, the child will become bored or discouraged, and will go read something else. What often happens is that if the child is interested enough, she will stretch herself, and advance her own reading skills.
Yes, there may be cases where you want to say no because of some mature content in a particular book. But that is not at all the same thing as having some blanket policy that says you can only choose from some sub-set of books that happen to qualify as your "age level." Presumably this girl is also not allowed to go back and read Magic Tree House or Princess in Black books either.
It just makes me so angry when schools put policies in place that take away kids' joy of reading. The number one goal of schools should be nurturing the joy of learning, especially when it comes to reading. If you learn to love reading, doors will open to you throughout your entire life. In contrast, if you learn that reading is a chore, if you are rebuffed in your enthusiasms, you'll be harmed forever.