Concerns regarding literature-based reading programs

iStock_000013777659XSmallTwenty-five years of research and experience with literature-based reading programs has convinced many reading teachers and educators that literature in reading programs provides children with access to richer, more complex language structures than the controlled readings of basal series.

In addition, there is evidence that literature programs increase reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and writing skill, as well as personal enjoyment of reading. These research findings, coupled with positive classroom experience, have led an increasing number of schools to rethink their reading programs and to implement literature-based approaches to reading instruction, as well as to incorporate literature into the curriculum of other subjects.

Basalization of literature

However, Janice A. Lipson, Western Michigan University, and Nicholas Paley, George Washington University, report that as these programs proliferate, there are growing concerns about their implementation. Recent studies have been critical of what is described as the “basalization” of literature-based reading programs or the simple substitution of literature for basal readers while retaining the use of traditional skill-centered strategies, factual recall questions, and worksheets. Jipson and Paley point out that there is more to developing a literature-based reading program than simply substituting trade books for basal readers. They express concern that the benefits of literature programs are not being fully realized.

Teachers need personal appreciation for literature

Jipson and Paley believe that teachers need a well-developed base of knowledge in literature in order to be able to offer meaningful instruction. For this reason, they spent a year investigating the reading habits of undergraduate and graduate education students at two major universities. Over the course of this year-long study, Jipson and Paley discovered profound differences between undergraduate and graduate teacher-education students in their appreciation and knowledge of literature. Undergraduate students reported that they read little outside of course requirements, and added that their pleasure reading consisted mainly of magazines or newspapers and sometimes popular novels, especially those associated with movies they had seen. Many of these students acknowledged that they did not really enjoy reading.

Conversely, Jipson and Paley found that the graduate education students had extensive and diverse reading habits. In interviews, these students said that reading was important for their personal and intellectual development and they stressed the intense pleasure they derived from reading both literature and non-fiction. Graduate students at both universities held undergraduate degrees in liberal arts and began teacher training only after working from one to twenty years in non-teaching fields.

These researchers believe that without a liberal-arts background, a personal involvement in reading and a high regard for literature, these undergraduate education majors will not be able to establish rich literature-based reading programs for their students.

Jipson and Paley conclude that the success of literature-based reading programs will depend on teachers having a broad-based knowledge and an appreciation of literature. Providing literature alone is not enough. Their interviews suggest that undergraduate education classes do not adequately prepare future teachers to successfully develop and teach literature-based reading programs.

“Is There A Base to Today’s Literature-Based Reading Programs” English Education, May 1992, Volume 24, Number 2, pp. 77-90.

Published in ERN November/December 1992 Volume 5 Number 5

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