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Are school reading programs too structured?

Many first-graders have to create a reading log with lots of information on books they’ve read, and high school students are only tested on an “approved” list of books. Are schools sucking the joy out of reading?

Little girl frustrated with book |
Photo credit: MarcoGovel/iStock/360/Getty Images

Structuring reading — particularly for early readers — is highly debated among parents and teachers. Veteran educator Stephanie Freeman has watched schools become “more and more powerless” in the creation of their curriculums and “trying too hard” to produce student outcomes that are easily documented.

“Schools feel the need to assess assignments differently — to give measurable results that can be charted,” says Freeman. ‘Fun’ or reading for enjoyment are not priorities because students must be assessed, and parents must be satisfied.”

One expert explains why structured reading really is the way to go. Mary Miele is one of New York City’s top education specialists and the founder of Evolved Education Company, a one-on-one tutoring and mentoring company that is focused on the “whole child.”

Do structured reading programs really work?

Many schools utilize structured reading programs in the classroom, but doing so is not required. “Common Core, which is the standards that most public schools follow, does not mandate that structured reading occur,” says Miele.

So why use it? “Studies on structured reading validate that it is a helpful approach to facilitate deep learning,” says Miele, who cited this excerpt from Structured Reading by Lynn Q. Troyka and Joe W. Thweatt.

Structured reading is grounded in the theory that students learn best from guided, hands-on experience with complete, non-partial reading sections. This text approaches students with detailed instruction in the separate skills areas that assure movement to college-level reading abilities, followed by extensive, repeated practice found in a variety of essays from books, magazines and texts.

Structured reading is for everyone

All abilities. “Used properly, structured reading can be helpful for any leveled reader,” says Miele. “Its purpose is to move readers along a continuum, so it could be used to remediate reading as well as to bring an average reader toward a more complex ability to understand text.

All ages. Structured reading programs are designed for students of every age and grade. When started early, this structuring enables students to form crucial reading skills that form a strong foundation to build upon and bring to a higher level.

Combine structured reading with free reading

Ideally, a student’s academic career would consist of both free and structured reading. “Structured reading is a way to instruct readers to implement reading strategies and skills that will develop their reading abilities,” says Miele. “It belongs in their school life and can be practiced at home. Free reading is a way for students to immerse themselves in text and to gain knowledge of the world through reading.”

Does structuring reading make learning less enjoyable?

Sarah complained that her first-grader has too much reading homework and has to record book titles, genres and other details for each little story she reads. Elizabeth’s middle-school reader has to journal every few chapters of her books — a cumbersome task for a speedy reader who is eager to finish books without interruption. Ellen’s high school student is tested and graded on books from an approved list, something that doesn’t appeal to this student with non-traditional interests. Why can’t these children read what they like, how they like?

“If you notice any activity coming home from school that is ‘sucking the joy’ out of reading, it’s important to talk with your child’s teacher about your child’s experience,” suggests Miele. “This gives the teacher an opportunity to explain the reasons for the activity so you can comfortably support the process at home.

“Additionally, the teacher will be enlightened that your child is not enjoying the academics in the manner in which it is being taught — and that information may help the teacher adapt the instruction in order to facilitate a renewed interest in the school work.”

If nothing changes to help your child feel good about the learning situation, you might want to consider some outside help to take what your child “must do” in school and either supplement it or change it up in some way at home, in order to instill the joy of learning for your child.

“My mantra is ‘learning is fun,’’” says Miele. “Reading should be something fun and empowering. If that is not your child’s experience, talk to your child’s teacher, then school leadership, then an outside expert… in that order. Be your child’s advocate. You want him or her to love reading because it’s the most important avenue to learning for life.”

Bottom line

Structured reading is necessary and helpful to our children. Educators who properly perform structured reading find that their students move along a reading continuum. Do what you can to support your child’s experience — do not allow structured reading to turn off your child’s joy of learning.

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Benefits of chapter books for young readers
Homework help tips for every age

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