Killing Them With Comprehension

Question Everything - Duncan Hull

Copyright Duncan Hull – Creative Commons License

Mr. Radley picked up students that irked him, transported them across the room dangling over his shoulder and dumped them in the trash. He plastered his bulletin boards with MTV posters, reeked like cigarettes AND somewhere between September and June he taught me to love literature.

Mr. Radley read books that had me hanging on every word uttered from under his handlebar moustache: My Bother Sam is Dead and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH figure heavily in my memory.

Interestingly, he didn’t ask a single comprehension question… ever. It was like going to the theater: soak in the performance, reflect if you want to… or don’t. This was my entry point to valuing literature.

Sure, I knew how to read. But I didn’t love it; and I don’t know that I would have learned it from Mr. Radley if he had concluded every chapter with an interrogation that progressed though the gamut of Bloom’s Taxonomy while addressing the Common Core Standards.

Maybe he slept through his undergrad literacy classes and didn’t know better. But I suspect that he consciously skipped compression questions to impart something about literacy that is all to often lost in reading instruction: pleasure.

This is the doorway to literacy for many children. Of late it has been buried under a mountain of curricular objectives and the crushing pressures of high stakes assessment. But the best teachers I know resist the political tides to open their students’ minds to the love of literature: just like Mr. Radley did.

So maybe, from time to time, teachers should transport comprehension questions dangling across the room and dump them in the trash in the name of literacy.


The best time to start reading to your child was in the womb. The second best time is today.

Perhaps you have noticed that schools produce more students who can read than who choose to read.

There are many reasons for this. But, significant among them is the endless push to raise test scores.

What’s the connection? Well…

Literature as pleasure is not a concern of most schools because the test score bar has been raised to the point at which most are “failing”.

If your child’s teacher is like most, they would like to teach your child to read for pleasure. However, it’s not in their curriculum (or Common Core). Not to mention that it won’t raise test scores right away (like teaching to the test). Consequently, they have to sneak it in the backdoor of the curriculum; and that’s exactly what many teachers feel compelled to do.

So, if you are hoping that your child will love literature, I’d suggest that you start reading to them… yesterday.

But, today would be good too!

BTW: If you’re thinking, “But my daughter/son is too old!” Just try it for a week. I’ve found that even middle schoolers will gladly listen; but picture books are most likely out of the question.

How my Science Project Destroyed the World…


It’s every kids’ dream come true… until it goes so, so wrong.

This comic book styled masterpiece has been so well “loved” by my classes that I pretty much have needed a new copy every year.  They read it over and over.  And they should.  It has everything they want that has been purged from basal readers.  Fantasy danger, explosions, giant monsters and a child hero… it’s all in there!

I didn’t need a multi-million dollar government study to figure out if they’d enjoy this one.  You won’t either.

Leave that Bear Alone!

Bear Snores On

Karma Wilson burst on the picture book scene with this thunderously successful poetic effort.  Paired to Jane Chapman’s stellar illustrations, this bear was bound for classic status.  Unfortunately, Wilson’s publisher decided that an endless slew of weak sequels – lacking the creative spark of her first brain child – were just what the doctor ordered.  But don’t let publisher greed deter you.  This is masterful writing.

BTW: Chapman’s moody evening winter snowstorm illustrations are almost enough to land this book in my blog all by themselves.

There’s Trouble in Walla Walla

Double Trouble

Andrew Clements is best known for his breakout chapter book Frindle.  (If you sold 2.5 million copies you’d get your name on the map too.)

This lesser known gem is his magnum opus in the picture book realm.  Lulu and grown-ups in her school plunge into a bizarre word warp with every whily-nily, cotton-pickin’, razzle-dazzle, double-dippin’, mish-mashed word combination you have ever heard.  It’s a serious challenge to read aloud with expression and fluency, but it’s so worth it!