Yes, You Can Get Teens Reading: One Senior High Campus Proves It

My department manager is wise, and I admire her leadership skills. She often asks, “What is your temperature?” to see how I am adjusting, coping, feeling, managing, dealing, doing with all that I must at my new school. Thankfully, although it’s my first year here, it rarely feels new anymore.

I like that Rhonda asks me questions about my readers and writers workshop classroom. She asks me to participate in discussions and professional development sessions. She validates me as an individual and as an teacher. I trust her, and I know she trusts me.

Trust is the greatest gift in the life of an educator.

We are an 11th and 12th grade campus. We are moving to a workshop pedagogy. Our district has changed the model of intervention by bringing in local National Writing Project consultants to write curriculum and train teachers. (I write about that in part in this post.) The ELA coordinator also hosted trainings with Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller, two of the brightest minds in workshop, last summer. Every time we meet as an English team, we talk about some aspect of reading, writing, and workshop in our classrooms.

Suggesting that we might like The Color of Law by a homegrown TX author

Suggesting that we might like The Color of Law by a homegrown TX author

Teachers are trusted to get their students reading. At LHS in every English class, visitors see students reading during the first 15 minutes of the period. Teachers have had training on giving book talks and conducting reading conferences, and we’ve started building classroom libraries.

I got an email message today: “What’s the title of that book, Story of Angel, or something. My copy has gone missing.”

The Book of Life by Angel,” I replied. It’s a hot title in my classroom, too. I have to replace it every year.

Our students are reading, and behaviors are changing for the better.

I heard one teacher say to another, “I like how reading at the beginning of class helps my students calm down. We get started with ease because they know to come in and get their books out.”

To build a culture of readers, we must trust that students will read when we give them time to so. We must model what that looks like.

Sharing a love for the work of R. A. Salvatore

Sharing a love for the work of R. A. Salvatore

We must trust our teachers to be readers themselves. How can we talk about books to kids if we are not reading them? Children of all ages revere authenticity.

Each week when we meet in our department meeting, a teacher gives a book talk. They share a bit of the passion they have for an author or a book.

Jeremy shared his love of fantasy, and Jayne shared a bit of Dickens in her fun fake British accent then talked about a new book she enjoyed by a Texas author. Karen read from The Yellow Birds and The Things They Carried and talked about how they made a nice pairing, and, most recently, the baseball coach Mike talked about a book he loved. (I wish I could remember what it was, but I forgot to write it down.)

Administrators must trust that when visiting classrooms they will, and want, to see rooms of students silently reading. What better activity in a class designed to improve literacy skills than to see all students engaged in the practice of it?

Students come to trust that reading and books provide value to their lives because the adults in which they trust value it, talk about it, model it, and, if necessary, enforce it.

Too many teenagers claim to be non-readers. Ask them, if you haven’t. They will tell you truly.

They will also tell you when they experience a shift in that thinking. They are surprised — and grateful.

an excerpt from my student Joseph’s last independent-reading evaluation

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015


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2 thoughts on “Yes, You Can Get Teens Reading: One Senior High Campus Proves It

  1. awamom March 6, 2015 at 8:08 am Reply

    I’m having trouble finding The Book of Life by Angel. Can you give me a little bit more information? The program at your school sounds wonderful. We do a good job getting our students reading, we’re not fully implemented like your school is. What a gift to your students!


    • Amy March 6, 2015 at 8:49 am Reply

      The Book of Life by Angel is the title. The author is Martine Leavitt. Sorry, I should have written that the first time.

      Thanks for the comment!


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