How Do Teachers Kill the Joy of Reading for Students?

No Scantron tests, please.

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Answer by Peter Kruger, high school English teacher:

Here are 10 easy steps for destroying all love of reading and instead instilling a lifelong hatred of otherwise amazing literature (even books the kids would enjoy reading on their own):

1. Pre-test the students’ vocabulary knowledge of words in the book. Do not allow the use of any reference materials. Make it abundantly clear in red ink that the students do not know lots of words. Express your disappointment in their lack of effort. Single out one student who overachieved and reward that student while pointedly ignoring all others.

2. Assign specific pages and chapters for tomorrow’s class. Inform them that they are not to read ahead under any circumstances. Punish those who do.

3. Read some of it aloud in class. Best if you simply read to them in the most monotone, robotic, emotionless voice you can muster. Do not betray the slightest hint that you have interest in the book or passion for the topic. In fact, pretend you have an utter loathing for it, and read it as dryly as a technical manual. Nod off periodically. Lose your place and start over.

Alternatively, you could randomly cold-call on students who have struggled historically with reading and make them read two pages aloud. Mock them openly if they stumble, or patronizingly correct their mistakes and applaud them if they do improve in a most passive-aggressive display of carelessness at their actual reading progress. Best results if done on Shakespeare with no prior student experience in reading Early Modern English.

4. Do not discuss the themes or concepts in the novel. Quiz them instead. Make sure to include detailed minutiae such as the color of the pants worn by the protagonist (and make sure to use words like protagonist, and quiz those, too). Under no circumstances allow these quizzes to be open book. Randomize them so students don’t know when the quiz might be coming. Express your disappointment with red ink and loud sighs when you pass them back.

5. Assign an analysis paragraph following a standardized model with a good acronym like TEALs or TIQuAC. Make sure it’s about something that students find meaningless. Do not discuss why it’s meaningful, but dock them significantly if they can’t express why it is. Do this for every chapter or scene. Do not allow them to analyze relevant themes or things they found significant. Instead, make sure to choose topics for them. Make them analyze the use of rhetorical devices and classical literary tropes. Make sure to tell them, “You’ll probably never use this in your personal writing, but … “

6. Give the students each a study guide that they have to complete chapter by chapter with completely irrelevant questions to the overarching plot. Include nonrelevant and obscure vocabulary. Force them to use outdated or abridged texts. Redact entertaining sections of those with a permanent marker. Demand the part of speech, alternative definitions, and etymology for vocabulary, and that all study guide responses be in the form of specific cited quotes from the text, which will be docked if not in perfect MLA citation format. Do not allow them to work with partners. Make it due in class so they can’t use Google for help.

7. One day, break them randomly into small groups. Assign them meaningless projects peripherally related to the text. Make sure to stick one go-getter with each group who will do all the work for the other students, then downgrade the entire group for “not working together.”

8. Refuse to answer any applicable questions they have. Tell them they are not reading closely enough. Give them a handout packet with strategies like SQ3R. Do not explain under any circumstances why these are helpful; simply give them to the students with no formal training.

9. Give the students a comprehensive, 100-question, multiple-choice Scantron (or otherwise computer-graded) test. Assign an analysis paper due the day of the test, and significantly limit the topics they may choose from to three insignificant quotes. Do not give a review day. Best if clearly visible that this exam was copied from a teacher’s edition of the textbook and purchased with a canned curriculum.

10. Never again even mention the book. Three months later, give a comprehensive, closed-book, two-hour, multiple-choice semester final exam that includes mostly questions stolen from the multiple-choice unit exam earlier in the semester. Best if used from a canned curriculum you purchased. Include at least a half-dozen questions that were never once even brought up in the original reading of the novel.

I can promise you that students will have an utter loathing for all reading, even popular books like the Hunger Games trilogy or Game of Thrones series, if you follow these simple steps to being a genuinely awful teacher.

The most surefire way to destroy a love of learning in students is to make it learning for the sake of itself, and not with practical application.

Terrible teachers are not just the ones who use bad strategies. They’re the ones who use good strategies poorly, without ever explaining what they are doing or why to the students. They make the final product or the test the main goal of education, not the process of learning and applying knowledge. They have no passion or excitement for the profession or content; it’s just a job to them. They may be competent in their subject knowledge and their exacting pedagogy may be word-for-word from an educational psychology textbook, but they are not engaging or interesting to study with, nor will their students ever retain the information or learn to do anything with it.

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