At least once a week, if not more, I see some news piece or article about how students these days are spending less time reading. Taking a minute to reflect upon my own reading life, I thought back to how I encouraged a community of reading in my classroom.
Over the course of a school year my students read a lot. Each year when we would count it up, we found that my eighth graders had read between 50-60 books each over the course of the school year.That’s 60 students reading about 60 books. That’s 1200 books. See? A lot! In my classroom, reading is contagious. Walk in the door, and you breathe in the reading bug. If you aren’t reading, you are separating yourself from something important. Reading takes precedence. By making reading a priority, and emphasizing that reading takes us places we’ll never get to, I am able to get even reluctant students to crack a book and creep into the pages. My struggling readers quickly learn that it is not about quantity or speed, but more about the fact that they are reading. Reading opens doors that the world slams shut.
No doubt, the biggest “Why read?” selling point to get my kids reading is my honesty. I openly tell them that when I was in sixth grade I hated to read. I hated to read! In fact, I hated to read so much that I only read one book all year. My students ooh and aah at that: “One book?” they question. Then I go on to tell them that I had a required book report due every six weeks, which meant read one book every six weeks. As you may guess, this discussion quickly turns into a math lesson with students questioning how I could have possibly passed sixth grade reading only one book. Every year I somehow skillfully turn the conversation back to reading. I let them question me: What about now? Do you like to read now? Do you only read because you have to? And my answer: What do you think?
It’s true that kids don’t care what you know until they know how much you care. Establishing rapport at the first of the year requires immediate, daily and purposeful attention, and honesty with students lends well to the building of it. I know it’s my honesty that makes it okay for my students to struggle with reading. We use my experiences, and make connections with their own, to talk about why reading is important and how we can grow as a room of readers. I flood the room with books. I talk about titles that painted pictures in my head. I read while my students are reading. My kids quickly see me as a reader.
Frequently, students want to know what turned me into a reader, like there’s some magic pill that changed my hate to love. They question me when I boast that I read forty-six books over summer vacation or 150 books total for the year. I model being a proud reader, and sometimes this leads to precious moments where my students and I have tender discussions about reading, and I am able to share my reading transformation story. Often students think that because I am their reading teacher I was born with a love of reading, and that it has always been easy for me. Once I dispel this myth, and they find out that I struggled for the better part of my life with reading, students are able to see me as a peer with a similar struggle, and if I work on the rapport right, they begin to envision themselves as readers. Isn’t that the key? If kids can see themselves as readers, maybe even if that seeing requires a high-powered magnifying glass, we can get pages to turn in their hands and characters to come to life. It only takes one book, and that’s a blog for another day.
In the mean time, what made you a reader?
I remember my budding reading life. Someone–maybe a teacher, maybe myself looking around a library– helped me discover Anne of Green Gables. I devoured that book! I remember asking my mom for the sequel, but she was not a reader, so she didn’t understand. She did give me one book a year for Christmas. My sister got one, too, so we had two brand new books to read over winter break. I finished them both by evening. I know that showing students our struggles is a good thing, and I show them good struggles when I’m writing, but I have a real hard time showing them my reading struggle–because it’s not difficult for me. I am constantly having to work on ways to get non-readers to crack a page. What would have made a difference to you at an earlier age?