Jul 28, 2012

Readers or Test Takers ~ What really is the intent of this book? - Review of Motivating Teen and Preteen Readers by Jeffrey Pflaum

Repost---- Originally posted Nov. 1, 2011

I would like to preface this review with the information that I love reading, my daughter loves reading, my stepson loves reading, however, in my previous life – prior to unplugging – I worked and volunteered in schools, mostly with kids who were wrongly diagnosed, grossly neglected by and often tortured through the system and more often than not HATED reading. I feel reading is the most important skill for a successful life. Reading opens minds to worlds without limits, breaks through any restrictions, and allows true freedom from everything, so when I was contacted to review Motivating Teen and Preteen Readersby Jeffrey Pflaum, I was really excited to delve into something that might help those who have no interest in reading.

The outline of the program that Pflaum puts forth is this -
  • 4 books of questions on reading and reading life
    • students answer questions on a schedule spread out over a course of a year and then discuss answers
  • brief teacher/parent raps and mini-discussions examine the experience of reading
  • class or 1:1 discussions bring out reading-world encounters and ideas
  • evaluations follow up each set
The list of goals that Pflaum lays out on pages 6-8 are somewhat inspiring and include -
  • Motivate, reading by heightening understanding of its processes.
  • Reveal the power of the written, spoken and imagined word.
  • Define reading as a process of self-communication.
  • Deepen students' understanding of reading's affective side.
  • Create confident, intrinsically motivated, effective, independent, lifelong readers.
Throughout the first few sections of the book, I felt there were a number of contradictions that I had a difficult time getting past. The author seems to illustrate that these books of questioning techniques will boost adolescents' motivation to read, but he states that motivation for reading must be intrinsic.  My question to the author is, "How are these extrinsic questions going to bring about a self-motivating drive?" A quote from page 1 "Reading in the 2000s is functional: to get grades on standardized tests." may seem to be taken out of context, but shortly there after Pflaum states "They [the questions] motivate students to make sense of reading and realize that testing is only a small part." p. 8. This leads me to wonder the actual intent of the book - is it to increase test scores or to create an interest for teens to read?  I am uncertain as to whether it is about essay writing and expression of experiences than actual useful tips to help teens WANT to read.
The four books of questions - which by the way are actually all included in this compilation - are comprised of questions which are suppose to make the reader enjoy reading more by teaching them "fundamental prerequisite skills or tools needed to enjoy reading and learning".   After looking over the questions I could picture was a class full of high schoolers rolling their eyes at these touchy feely questions -
  • How cool and calm are you when you are reading? Explain your answer.
  • Do you enjoy the solitude and silence of reading and your reading life? Explain your answer.
  • When is reading sweet peace for you?
Again I am no expert in this area, but my 14 year old daughter said it rather eloquently when she stated - "You just need to find a book genre that you like and read." To me this is the quintessential solution - let kids read what they want to read when they want to read it. Many kids hate to read because they are forced to regurgitate the information to pass a test. They are made to feel inferior if they cannot read at the same time or earlier than kids their own age. They don't connect with the book because they see it as "work". They have no time to read for "fun" because they have homework and sports and dance and even over the summer they have stacks of books that MUST be read by the fall. While I don't want to say that ALL home educated kids like to read, I have never met one who doesn't.
When kids aren't rushed, prodded and ordered to read restricting possibilities, content and given strict timelines, they tend to have that intrinsic motivation that Pflaum mentions naturally. This is just another approach to the same end, get the kids to write so they can pass the test. I don't mind offering the advice of my young sage!

I'm interesting in learning from the author during his upcoming interviewwith Unplugged Mom, whether the intent of the book is to "teach the test" or to motivate a true love of reading and appreciation of literature.   I look forward to the opportunity to hear from him. ---- 

Updated– Nov. 15, 2011
After listening to Pflaum's interview on UMRadio, I feel like he has the best intentions, but the ideas expressed in his interview did not translate into his writing. It is my opinion that this is a teacher trying to make better students, rather than make better readers and I don't know if he truly understands the difference! This may sound harsh, but I feel as though it is my duty to call out a wolf when I see one! 

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