Reading By Numbers

The English Education Secretary Michael Gove caused huge controversy this week (not for the first time) when he boldly proclaimed that every 11 year-old should be reading 50 books a year. Let us give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume he meant ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if all 11 year-olds read 50 books a year’. The problem is that he has no idea how to bring that about, or even how to begin to encourage such a scenario, and being part of a government determined to close public libraries certainly isn’t going to help. The clue to his thinking is in the word ‘should’ and in the arbitrary choice of 50 as a target number of books. Is it based on the notion of one book per week with two weeks off for good behaviour? The ‘should’ of course is based on a model of education which is centred on instruction, telling young people what is good for them, rather than fostering a real love of reading, which takes time, dedication, a fairly detailed knowledge of the individual child’s likes and needs, and a love of reading on the part of the teacher.

If anyone with access to Mr Gove happens to read this post, perhaps next time you see him you could lean over and whisper in his ear the title of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. Were he to add this to his reading list – assuming he himself reads at least 50 books a year – he might begin to understand the effort and dedication it takes on the part of those teachers who are already developing young readers and pay them a bit more respect. However, if he is determined to turn young people off reading for life simply by imposing targets, here are a few more pieces of advice he might give any teacher trying to create reluctant readers:-

•Don’t ever talk about books
•Keep books out of sight to prevent theft
•Make sure books are well-worn and unattractive (see above)
•Never read aloud to children
•Make sure the furniture is hard and uncomfortable and all fluorescent lights are on
•Always have the class reading the same book at the same pace
•Make it clear that comics and graphic novels are not ‘proper reading’
•Prepare plenty of worksheets and insist that they write a book review every time they finish a book
•Never ask kids about their hobbies and interests
•Don’t allow them to bring their own books to school
See also Kenny Pieper’s excellent blogpost Things To Do In Ten Minutes

7 thoughts on “Reading By Numbers

  1. Brilliant.
    I was about to comment on this nonsense myself but now have no need.
    I’m going to order the book too.
    Thank you.

  2. Thanks Hilery. Ironically, Donalyn has EVERY child in her class reading in excess of fifty books per year, but as you will see her approach is not quite as simplistic as the notion which I think is in Michael Gove’s head! Enjoy.


  3. Absolutely. Nothing like deadlines and book reports for sucking all the joy out of reading. Thank God my son reads at least this many books. It’s only because he’s seen me reading since the day he was born. How are teachers supposed to pull this off when they spend 90% of their time preparing for standardized tests?

  4. Hi there. Couldn’t agree more about the fact that teachers need to be freed from the testmania which currently blights many of our schools and stifles the teachers’ attempts to create an environment where reading is valued in and for itself. We also need to enable teachers to provide for young people who are not as fortunate as your son and who don’t have good role models out of school. That’s why it is critical that the teacher is also a reader.



  6. Thank you for mentioning my book, The Book Whisperer. I have asked my publisher, Jossey-Bass, to send Secretary Gove a copy. I wonder if he will ever see it…

  7. My pleasure Donna. I read it last year after a friend recommended it, and I was inspired by it – so much so that I think it should be on every teacher’s reading list. As for Michael Gove, thank goodness he has no influence in Scotland and is meeting fierce resistance in the rest of the UK as you may well have seen on Twitter. Thanks for dropping by, as they say, and do come again.


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