The Literacy Legacy of Books That Were Left Behind: The Role of Children's Literature and Concepts of Free Reading in NCLB
Roberts, Sherron Killingsworth, Killingsworth, Elizabeth K., Childhood Education
As education priorities in the United States continue to be debated and legislated, perhaps this is the best time to examine how the very influential piece of legislation known as No Child Left Behind (U.S. Department of Education, 2002a) has influenced U.S. schools, teachers, and students. In looking forward to future legislation and possible reiterations of NCLB, it also might be instructive to look back to the beginnings of the NCLB legislation. First, the National Reading Panel (2000) worked to examine and synthesize effective elementary reading instruction and released their findings to include five basic building blocks or pillars, upon which all reading instruction would be based. Then, legislation based on the National Reading Panel's findings was introduced, leading to President Bush signing into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 on January 8, 2002. As the authors considered this background and the law's implications, they pursued the following research question: How often were concepts related to "books, free reading, or children's literature" considered in developing this important legislation? This study focused on the role of children's literature and the concepts of free reading in the development and implementation of NCLB.
The NCLB legislation has been considered the most sweeping education reform since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (U.S. Department of Education, 1965). In many ways, NCLB continues to redefine the federal role in K-12 education. It is based on four basic premises: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on proven, research-based teaching methods.
Why Consider Children's Literature When Establishing Reading Mandates?
When one considers the impact of the NCLB legislation, which included the states' Reading First mandates (U.S. Department of Education, 2002b), one expects that ideas about real books and real reading would be included throughout the discourse. We were interested to see how these ideas related to children's literature, as opposed to simply instructional materials, and how free, voluntary reading, as opposed to the goal of a grade-level standardized test score, was treated within this influential document.
Content analysis should help stakeholders realize that consideration of children's literature and real books is imperative in future education legislation and reading mandates. We must ensure that teachers are knowledgeable about and have access to children's books, and are knowledgeable about the positive impact of free reading. Given the NCLB legislation and the Reading First programs, school districts began seeking valuable information about integrating literature and reading into every subject area, from music to physical education and mathematics (El-Hindi, 2003; Lake, 1993; Pappas, Keifer, & Levstik, 1995; Strickland, 1994-95; Tunnel & Ammon, 1993; Van Middendorp & Lee, 1994). In a changing political environment, teachers and other constituents will want to stress the importance of including real literature in reading programs, so that children might grow into lifelong readers.
Of course, effective literacy instructors must critically evaluate how they use children's books. Teachers must know their students in order to match them with appropriate children's books. Otherwise, what's the point of learning to read? Surely, reading and children's literature must go hand-in-hand, and so we were interested to discover if NCLB reflected that connection.
Children's Literature, Real Reading, and Books in NCLB Legislation
The highly regarded booklet Every Child Reading: A Professional Guide (Learning First Alliance, 2000) emphasized that all reading instruction must include five basic building blocks, often referred to as pillars. Based on the research findings of the National Reading Panel the pillars are: phonemic awareness instruction, phonics instruction, fluency instruction, vocabulary instruction, and text comprehension instruction. Although neither the National Reading Panel nor the booklet specifically mentions the important knowledge base related to children's literature, children's literature could be envisioned as the stimulating and meaningful medium that runs through the five areas of instruction. Note that the basic thrust of these building blocks became the checklist for funding of every state's Reading First grant. Yet, the building blocks often have been addressed using only certain instructional materials, such as assessments, textbooks, workbooks, or software, some of which seemed to profit the authors of Reading First themselves (Grunwald, 2006). Why not use real books for reading instruction and improvement?
In like manner, some experts have questioned why real reading or free reading was not included as one of the National Reading Panel's building blocks of reading proficiency (Krashen, 2004; Shanahan, 2003). Krashen (2004) boldly rebutted four of the tenets or "findings" of the National Reading Panel, notably the false claim that no clear evidence exists showing that actually reading more in school improves reading achievement. In fact, only 10 of 14 comparisons were analyzed. Out of those 14 comparisons, four had positive results from sustained silent reading, while 10 showed no difference. These conclusions did not take into account any long-term studies of students engaging in sustained silent reading. Out of 10 comparison studies, participants in eight performed better than those not engaged in silent reading, while the remaining two showed no difference. Notably, the National Reading Panel chose not to include any of the more robust studies lasting longer than one year (Krashen, 2004).
In The Power of Reading, Krashen (1993) synthesized years of literacy research to argue the point that one cannot learn to read unless one actually reads--really reads--books. He uses the term "free reading," which also can be called independent reading, recreational reading, leisure reading, or free voluntary reading. He makes a compelling case through strong research evidence and rational debate that reading real books is the most effective tool for learning to read. Not only does it increase the emergent reader's ability to read and to write, it also yields gains in fluency, spelling, comprehension, speed, and syntax, not to mention promoting a true love and motivation for lifelong reading. More recently, Forrest (2004) and Kim (2006) offer strong evidence that free voluntary reading programs, either conducted during a summer program or as part of a family literacy program, can improve standardized reading scores for lower income or minority students.
Methods, Techniques, and Modes of Inquiry
In an effort to see how NCLB has influenced the present state of reading instruction in schools, the authors analyzed the original NCLB legislation regarding the status of "children's literature." The two authors read and coded this 567-page legislative document, seeking the terms "children's literature" (or synonymous search terms), "free reading" (or synonymous search terms), and "books" (or synonymous search terms).
A trained reference librarian conducted content analyses and searched the entire No Child Left Behind legislative document reference for specific terms relating to reading and literature. In relation and in addition to the term "books," "book" and "reading material" also were used. In relation and in addition to the term "children's literature," the following were used: "library," "children's literature," or "literature." In relation to and in addition to the term "reading," the following were used: "real reading," "independent reading," "leisure reading," "wide reading," "free reading," "free voluntary reading," "voluntary reading," or "actual reading." Then, the authors followed Glesne and Peshkin's (1992) recommendations for analyzing content analysis data, with progressive processes of reading and sorting for patterns, and direct quotations from each of the legislative documents kept alongside as supporting evidence.
Findings Concerning NCLB Legislation and Children's Literature
In order to examine how the priorities of children's literature were aligned with reading instruction in the legislative document of the No Child Left Behind Act, the authors asked themselves the following research question: Using content analysis methods, how often are ideas related to "books, free reading, or children's literature" included in the No Child Left Behind legislation?
The NCLB legislative document titled Summary and Overview (www.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/execsumm.html?exp=0) contained references to reading, but only in terms of final goals or outcomes, such as "reading by grade three." Further, four other references to reading were found in Reading First or Early Reading First grants. The document contained numerous references to "scientifically based reading instruction," however. As the authors searched the document for mentions of reading, the most striking finding concerned the lack of references to reading as a verb, to reading as an action, or real reading as a means of instruction. Nowhere did the document refer to reading as an action.
Within the Executive Summary and Overview of the No Child Left Behind legislation and within the Reading First documents, the written communication clearly referred to "literature-rich environments" and to "instructional materials"; however, the strong message across all references was that these are two discretely different mediums. Likewise, the highly regarded booklet Every Child Reading: A Professional Guide (Learning First Alliance, 2000), upon which the Reading First guidelines are based, did not specifically mention the importance of teachers' knowledge of children's literature. In fact, the five research building blocks of phonemic awareness instruction, phonics instruction, fluency instruction, vocabulary instruction, and text comprehension instruction could be met, according to the content of the guide, without children reading real books; instead, they could merely interact with such instructional materials as workbooks or software.
Further, no references were made in these documents to the power of leisure, independent, or free voluntary reading (Krashen, 1993, 2002, 2004; Shanahan, 2003), nor to the stimulating and helpful body of children's literature. One exception is a tangential reference to an offshoot of Reading First funding within No Child Left Behind that helps fund libraries' collections of current children's books. Moreover, even though the word "books" is referenced throughout these legislative documents, the intent is always to highlight the long-term goal of reading books, not the intermediate goals of utilizing real books to teach reading, to practice reading, or to enhance reading instruction. Figure 1 charts the mere 13 occurrences when books, children's literature, or reading are referenced in the NCLB document. Please note that the authors omitted the numerous other references to "reading by grade three" or "Reading First" or "reading instruction" or "scientifically based reading instruction." In keeping with the semantic purpose and intent of this study, those incidental or obvious mentions were not counted, nor reported. To further corroborate the insufficient intention regarding really reading using real books, a trained reference librarian executed a formal literature search in ERIC and in Education Abstracts, and found no articles related to the topic when the following descriptors and search strategy were used: books (or book or library) OR literature (or real reading or free reading or leisure reading or recreational reading or wide reading or voluntary reading or actual reading) AND NCLB (or No Child Left Behind). Figure 2 provides the actual excerpts.
Six categories or themes emerged as we synthesized the 13 total occurrences: engaging reading materials, the act of reading, reading outside of school, literature-rich environments, school library materials or books/library services and materials, and book distribution programs.
The first theme--that of engaging reading materials--was identified through only one occurrence: "promoting reading and library programs that provide access to engaging reading material." Both researchers agreed that this instance implied the use of books regarded as children's literature. The second theme, the act of reading, also was referenced only once throughout the entire NCLB document. This one citation does positively refer to reading for reading's sake, particularly in terms of families and libraries: "family literacy programs that bond families around the act of reading and using public libraries." Our inquisitiveness in regard to recreational or leisure reading was somewhat satisfied within the third identified theme of reading outside of school; however, only one occurrence was identified for this theme as well. The supporting quotation also came from the Reading First section and stated: "The Secretary must contract for an evaluation of this subpart and shall include an analysis of changes in students' interest in reading and time spent reading outside of school." Given the paucity of citations, at least this one sentence acknowledged that recreational or free reading outside of school exists and should be given some level of importance based on student interest.
The fourth theme, literature-rich environments, was identified from three occurrences. This theme was clearly related to preschool or early readers in two of the citations. While the first supporting quotation does not specifically mention preschool or early readers, it was taken from the subpart titled Early Reading First, whose purpose is to "provide students with cognitive learning opportunities in high-quality language and literature rich environments." Unfortunately, this notion of literature-rich environments did not appear to extend into elementary, middle, and secondary schools within the NCLB document. Research shows that access to books throughout elementary and middle schools, even in secondary classrooms, is imperative if we want to improve reading frequency, create lifelong readers, and improve reading standardized test scores (Baumbach, 2003; McQuillan & Au, 2001). Advocates of print-rich environments would adopt this philosophy well into middle school and high school.
On a relatively positive note, the largest number of references relate to the theme of school library materials, with four occurrences. The original NCLB document did consider the significance of an up-to-date and accessible library for children's literacy development. In light of education budget cuts, librarians and library collections must be considered as critical to our students' literacy development. No children and no books should be left behind. Yet, the written documentation of No Child Left Behind did, overall "leave books behind," or at least relegate them to school libraries and primary grades.
The last category or theme uncovered through our analysis, book distribution programs, was somewhat unexpected after so many pages absent of references to books. The three occurrences (and their supporting context, seen in Figure 2) were the result of NCLB legislating a "model partnership between a government entity and a private entity to help prepare young children for reading and to motivate older children to read through the distribution of inexpensive books." So, despite most of the original NCLB legislation leaving books out of the equation, NCLB did indeed include three references to books for really reading, although by outsourcing them to inexpensive distribution programs such as RIF (Reading Is Fundamental).
The Legislative Future
Congress has failed to reauthorize the NCLB Act of 2001. The NCLB Act of 2007 (S.1775), co-written by Senators Lamar Alexander and Richard Burr, held promise for moving through the legislative process, but election year politics hindered any congressional action. Two bills have been recently introduced in the Senate. In May 2010, Senator Susan Collins introduced the No Child Left Behind Flexibility and Improvements Act (S.3316), and Senator Christopher Dodd introduced the No Child Left Behind Reform Act (S.3558) in June 2010. Both bills have been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where they remain. In early 2010, President Obama proposed major changes to NCLB, but these changes have yet to be acted on by Congress (Paulson, 2010). Readers may follow the ongoing legislative action at http://thomas.loc.gov.
Figure 2 Excerpts from NCLB, bolded to show references to books, reading, and literature Title I--Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged Part B--Student Reading Skills Improvement Grants Subpart 1--Reading First Sec. 1202: Formula grants to State educational agencies One of the uses of the subgrants to local educational agencies is: Sec. 1202(c)(7)(A)(vii) Promoting reading and library programs that provide access to engaging reading material, including coordination with programs funded through grants received under subpart 4, where applicable. Sec. 1202(c)(7)(B)(i) Additional uses. An eligible local educational agency that receives a subgrant under this subsection may use the funds provided under the subgrant to carry out the following activities: Humanities-based family literacy programs (which may be referred to as 'Prime Time Family Reading Time') that bond families around the act of reading and using public libraries. Sec. 1205: External Evaluation (a) In General.--From funds reserved under section 1202(b)(1)(C), the Secretary shall contract with an independent organization outside of the Department for a 5-year, rigorous, scientifically valid, quantitative evaluation of this subpart. (c) Analysis--The evaluation under subsection (a) shall include the following: (5) A measurement of the extent to which specific instructional materials improve reading proficiency. (9) An analysis of changes in students" interest in reading and time spent reading outside of school. Subpart 2--Early Reading First Sec. 1221. Purposes; definitions (a) Purposes--the purposes of this subpart are as follows: (2) To provide preschool age children with cognitive learning opportunities in high-quality language and literature-rich environments, so that the children can attain the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary for optimal reading development in kindergarten and beyond. Sec. 1222. Local Early Reading First Grants. (b) Applications.--An eligible applicant that desires to receive a grant under this section shall submit an application to the Secretary, which shall include a description of-- (2) how the proposed project will enhance the school readiness of preschool age children in high-quality oral language and literature-rich environments; (d) Authorized Activities.--An eligible applicant that receives a grant under this subpart shall use the funds provided under the grant to carry out the following activities: (1) Providing preschool age children with high-quality oral language and literature-rich environments in which to acquire language and prereading skills. Subpart 3--William F. Gooding Even Start Family Literacy Programs Sec. 1235. Program Elements Each program assisted under this subpart shall-- (4) include high-quality, intensive instructional programs that promote adult literacy and empower parents to support the educational growth of their children, developmentally appropriate early childhood educational services, and preparation of children for success in regular school programs; Subpart 4--Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Sec. 1251. Improving literacy through school libraries (a) Purposes.--The purpose of this subpart is to improve literacy skills and academic achievement of students by providing students with increased access to up-to-date school library materials, a well-equipped, technologically advanced school library media center, and well-trained, professionally certified school library media specialists. (g) Local Activities.--Funds under this section may be used to-- (1) acquire up-to-date school library media resources, including books; (h) Accountability and Reporting.-- (1) Local reports.--Each eligible local educational agency that receives funds under this section for a fiscal year shall report to the Secretary or State educational agency, as appropriate, on how the funding was used and the extent to which the availability of, the access to, and the use of, up-to-date school library media resources in the elementary schools and secondary schools served by the eligible local educational agency was increased. Title V. Promoting Informed Parental Choice and Innovative Programs Part A. Innovative Programs Subpart 3--Local Innovative Education Programs Section 5131. Local uses of funds (a) Innovative Assistance Programs.--Funds made available to local educational agencies under section 5112 shall be used for innovative assistance programs, which may include any of the following: (3) Programs for the development or acquisition and use of instructional and educational materials, including library services and materials (including media materials), academic assessments, reference materials, computer software and hardware for instructional use, and other curricular materials that are tied to high academic standards, that will be used to improve student academic achievement, and that are part of an overall education reform program. Part D--Fund for the Improvement of Education Subpart 5--Reading Is Fundamental--Inexpensive Book Distribution Program Sec. 5451. Inexpensive book distribution program for reading motivation (a) Purpose.--The purpose of this subpart is to establish and implement a model partnership between a governmental entity and a private entity, to help prepare young children for reading and to motivate older children to read, through the distribution of inexpensive books. Local reading motivation programs assisted under this section shall use such assistance to provide books, training for volunteers, motivational activities, and other essential [**1825] literacy resources and shall assign the highest priority to serving the youngest and neediest children in the United States. (b) Authorization.--The Secretary is authorized to enter into a contract with Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) (hereafter in this section referred to as the 'contractor') to support and promote programs, which include the distribution of inexpensive books to young and school-age children, that motivate children to read. (c) Requirements of Contract.--Any contract entered into under subsection b shall contain each of the following: (1) A provision that the contractor will enter into subcontracts with local private nonprofit groups or organizations, or with public agencies, under which each subcontractor will agree to establish, operate, and provide the non-Federal share of the cost of reading motivation programs that include the distribution of books, by gift (to the extent feasible) or by loan, to children from birth through secondary school age, including children in family literacy programs.
Concluding Remarks: Imagining a Different Education World
Imagine the education world now, had the original NCLB legislation presented a different stance. Imagine eight years of a policy that had not left books out of the process: a world that includes a focus on training teachers in children's literature, books, and literature for effective reading instruction; programs for recreational and leisure reading; and mandated time for real reading within schools, families, and communities.
The value of children's literature to children's literacy development cannot be contested. Because children's literature is so valuable to children, it should also be valuable to the people responsible for educating them--their teachers. And so it's unfortunate that something that can play such a critical role in children' lives is often relegated to a less than critical role in teacher education. (Hoewisch, 2000, p. 1)
The most important reason to analyze the role of children's literature and free reading in the NCLB legislation has been to consider its effects upon literacy instruction in. Many experts in reading instruction believe that learning to read is not a matter of software or workbooks, but instead is a matter of literature-based reading instruction, wherein books and free reading play a critical role not only in reading as a final outcome but also in learning to read (Baghban, 1995; Baumbach, 2003; Forrest, 2004; Harris, 2005; Hoffman, 1996; Huck, 1996; Kim, 2006; Krashen, 1993, 2002, 2004; McQuillan & Au, 2001; Shanahan, 2003; Strickland, 1994-95; Taylor et al., 2002). The enduring and economical ideas of using real books or children's literature to teach and support reading must be included in any future legislation or mandated policy about the teaching of reading. Books cannot be left behind again.
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Sherron Killingsworth Roberts is Associate Professor, School of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, University of Central Florida, Orlando. Elizabeth K. Killingsworth is Associate Librarian and Interim Department Head, Information Literacy & Outreach, University of Central Florida Libraries.
Figure 1 Text Occurrences in Public Law 107-110, No Child Left Behind TEXT OCCURRENCE TITLE SECTION Engaging 1 Title I, Part B: 1202(c)(7) reading Subpart 1: (A)(vii) material Reading First Act of reading 1 Title I, Part B: 1202(c)(7) Subpart 1: (B)(i) Reading First Reading 1 Title I, Part B: 1205(a)(9) outside Subpart 1: of school Reading First Literature-rich 3 Title I, Part B: 1221(a)(2); environments Subpart 2: 1222(b)(2); Early Reading 1222(d)(1) First School library 4 Title I, Part B: 1251(a); materials or Subpart 4: 1251(g)(1); books; Improving 1251(h)(1) Library literacy services and through materials school libraries. Book 3 Title V Part D: 5451(a); distribution Subpart 5: 5451(b); programs Reading Is 5451(c)(1) Fundamental TEXT CONTEXT Engaging One of the uses of reading the subgrants to material local educational agencies is "promoting reading and library programs that provide access to engaging reading material." Act of reading One of the additional uses for subgrants is to carry out "family literacy programs that bond families around the act of reading and using public libraries." Reading The Secretary must outside contract for an of school evaluation of this subpart and shall include an analysis of "changes in students' interest in reading and time spent reading outside of school." Literature-rich 1. Purpose of this environments subpart is to "provide students with cognitive learning opportunities in high-quality language and literature rich environments." 2. Grant applications shall include a description of "how the project will enhance the school readiness of preschool age children in high quality oral language and literature-rich environments." 3. A grant recipient may use the funds to "provide school age children with high-quality oral language and literature-rich environments in which to acquire language and prereading skills." School library 1. Purpose of this materials or subpart is to books; "improve literacy Library skills and academic services and achievement of materials students by providing students with increased access to up-to date school library materials." 2. Funds may be used to "acquire up-to-date school media resources, including books." 3. Reports made must include how the availability, access, and use of "school library media resources" was increased. 4. Funds for innovative programs may be used for "programs for the development or acquisition and use of instructional and educational materials including library services and materials." Book 1. Purpose of this distribution subpart is to programs "establish and implement a model partnership between a government entity and a private entity to help prepare young children for reading and to motivate older children to read through the distribution of inexpensive books." 2. "The Secretary is authorized to enter into a contract with Reading Is Fundamental." 3. RIF will enter into subcontracts to "establish, operate, and provide the non-Federal share of the cost of reading motivation programs that include the distribution of books."…
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Publication information: Article title: The Literacy Legacy of Books That Were Left Behind: The Role of Children's Literature and Concepts of Free Reading in NCLB. Contributors: Roberts, Sherron Killingsworth - Author, Killingsworth, Elizabeth K. - Author. Journal title: Childhood Education. Volume: 87. Issue: 1 Publication date: Fall 2010. Page number: 17+. © 2009 Association for Childhood Education International. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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