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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 11/27/2009

From Readers: Valerie ‘can’t follow simple instructions,’ and other great feedback

By Valerie Strauss

The best part about writing this blog is hearing from all of you. I learn a lot from some of you and laugh a lot with you (and sometimes because of you). Please keep talking back to me, either in the comments section or by email. Here is just a sampling of some of the great responses I have recently received:

To a post in which I explained how I failed my first standardized test, in second grade, because I circled all three multiple choice responses and wrote explanations about why they all could be true in the margins:
Posted by: Etch | November 19
While I agree wholeheartedly with your concern regarding standardized testing, "over-comprehension" sounds like a fancy word for "can’t follow simple instructions" on a multiple choice test.

To a post warning parents not to expect to spend a lot of time with their returning college freshman over Thanksgiving:
Posted by exkidspost, November 24
My mother still talks about how horrible I was when I came home for my first Thanksgiving break from college thirty years ago. We laugh now, but at the time she was appalled by my crabiness and unease--after all the freshmen went back to school, she discovered that all of her friends had had similar experiences with their kids. I think it’s just one of those awkward developmental stages--the new college student is clinging on to her sense of her new identity and then, mere weeks after leaving home, is plunged back into childhood. It isn’t pretty, but at least it’s brief.

Some of you debated a post on the National Council of Teachers of English and its support for the LEARN Act, legislation in Congress on literacy education that critics say supports reading instruction that doesn’t work. Here’s one response from a teacher:
Posted by Terry Smith, Grade 4 teacher,, November 26
OK - theory and politics aside. How about a word from the classroom - hello? Reading evaluation has taken the place of reading, learning about reading, and enjoying reading. That’s the case in my district. We test and retest and benchmark kids’ reading skills over and over to come up with a miraculous READING LEVEL! For example L, M, N, O, P, letters that indicate if a child is "on grade level" or not. Here’s how the testing done: teacher sits aside or out in the hall with a single student for about 39035 minutes going over a prescribed reading test. The teacher does this with each student. Meanwhile, the rest of the class is basically ignored, assigned to seat work of some kind, or off task and misbehaving. In a class room of 25 or more, you can see how much real instruction time is lost, how much wasted learning time occurs. But administrations are happy to get the numbers on the charts to please whatever political mandate they worship. But back to the one is reading. Kids read for assessment, not for pleasure, not to get lost in the story, not to become the characters, not to really become good readers.
Parents - wake up. Teachers, become professionals. We know how kids learn to read. They read. They talk about reading, they draw about reading, they make their own books, they create characters, they modify story lines, they act our stories...they enjoy themselves.

What’s happening in your school? Do you really know, really understand how the teachers are not really giving your kids an enjoyable reading experience?

To a post about whether it is more difficult for girls to get into college than it is for boys:
Posted by: orange3, November 17
What is always amusing is to watch colleges go through all sorts of contortions to get some "balance" depending on what group they want to favor all the while insisting that they treat everyone equally.

To a post about how Catholic University Professor Diane Bunce married chemistry with Thanksgiving in a demonstration that answered such questions as how a popup turkey timer works and why muffins rise:
Posted by: laura33, November 25
My physics prof in college demonstrated everything using a stuffed frog. That little touch of humor was pretty much the only thing that got me out of bed for an 8:30 class.
Best ever, though, was my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Grabner. He personally demonstrated the three different types of energy in an atom (translational = walking; vibrational = shaking; rotational = turning like a ballerina). And then, he noted, sometimes you get all three at once. The visual was priceless -- he was 6-foot-plus, and looked like a combination of Mr. Spock and a vampire. He would also digress into topics like "what do you do when you’re driving downhill and your brakes fail" -- not exactly chemistry, but he always had a scientific explanation, and it always made class interesting.

To a post questioning Oprah Winfrey’s self-empowerment philosophy:
Posted by: imajypsee | November 20
Thank goodness someone sees the problem of Oprah for what she is: a fortunate daughter, one who is blessed because she was standing in the right spot when the gate opened and the powerful established interests wanted to add a person of color to the mix. Her "if I can do it, so can you" ideology is downright harmful. She negates diversity in a way that harms everyone with her "be like me" notions.

To a post about kids who read only fantasy books, which included comments from a literacy expert who said that fantasy books generally don’t include adult themes:
Posted by: sundance_arya | November 20
I hate to break the news, but "Game of Thrones" does have sex in it. It also includes incest, violence, blood, complex political intrigue, major character deaths, and so on. All the characters are "flawed, ambivalent, and deeply fallible" (no clear-cut heroes and villains), to quote James Poniewozik of TIME, and honorable deeds don’t always end well and are shown to not necessarily be the best solution to conflicts -- unlike in children’s fantasy stories. It is definitely NOT for children (if I were a parent, I’d not let my children read it until they were mature) and definitely more geared towards adults. It’s probably why HBO is adapting it -- it’s very much in line with the rest of their shows.

And to the same post:

Posted by: flabbergast | November 23
Great topic. I always allow my daughter to choose her books. I haven’t always been happy with her choices since they seemed too easy and below her reading level at times so I insisted she choose a combination of both. I think it helps her form her own interests which I don’t want to dictate. I want reading to be fun for her not a chore.

For more on Education, please see

By Valerie Strauss  | November 27, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions, Learning, Reading, Standardized Tests  | Tags:  reader response  
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