Author, teacher, and reading-writing workshop guru Nancie Atwell recently won the $1 million Global Teacher Prize. I have been a fan of Atwell’s work since I read her book In the Middle during my first year of graduate school. In fact, I was star struck two years ago when Atwell sat on the floor next to me during an NCTE workshop (note my shoulder proudly photo bombing Shana’s picture of the goddess herself). While I have subscribed to Atwell’s philosophy since I began my career in education, I was shocked to read in the media coverage that her students on average read 40 books per year.
My students do not.
Don’t get me wrong; the majority of my students read a large amount, yet while I could calculate the average, it would grossly misrepresent the true value of their accomplishments. I have some students who breathe books and complete them at breakneck speed. They add leaves to our book tree at an astonishing rate, yet admittedly not all my students are like that. By the end of the year, some have only completed two or three independent books in total. As a first year teacher (last year), I felt like I had failed these students. As far as I was concerned, the good teachers didn’t run into this problem. They only spoke about the record-breaking kids, not the ones that kept me wracking my brain for a solution. It felt like I was the only teacher who had the two-book-reader.
Last year, mine was TJ. TJ couldn’t seem to make it through a book. Many of my hesitant readers have learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders; in past classes, they have felt little success in reading whole class novels. When they arrive in my classroom they are resistant to choosing their own independent reading books. TJ was no exception; he had ADHD and struggled to focus on his reading both in and out of class. I’d watch him stare at a page for five minutes straight without being able to settle his mind and read a line. During conferences TJ discussed his book and claimed he was interested in it, yet he moved at a snail’s pace. By the end of his foray with Jarhead, I couldn’t imagine him undergoing the same tedious process with another book. I thought he’d quit. But he didn’t. Through reading conferences, daily reading time, and check-ins with his parents, I was able to help TJ develop a routine and gradually become a reader. Yet the greatest influence was TJ’s friends. Seeing so many of his peers reading on a daily basis motivated TJ to continue working towards his goals.
By the end of the year, TJ had read two independent reading books and three whole class reads, “more books than [he] had ever read before.” This was a feat arguably equal to if not mightier than some of my students who read 80 or more books. TJ developed persistence and stamina even if he couldn’t keep up with many of his peers. He was proud of his accomplishments and determined to become a better reader the following year. As a teacher, that’s what I want for my students—to push them to succeed and accomplish more than they thought they were capable of.
We all have those students (or maybe it’s still just me) but we must praise and hold these students in high esteem. We must brag about their successes and triumphs just as much as we praise the work of our highly motivated readers. After all, every book is a learning experience and an accomplishment.
Do you have a “two-book reader”? What is your story, and how did you work to motivate that student?