“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. [Books are] so endlessly delicious.”
― Ruth Reichl
I’ve spent a lot of time with the love birds my children gave me for my birthday. They are beautiful. And scared. I made the mistake of not reading enough about them before I tried my hand at training. Now, I am having to back track just to get them to like me. I knew better. Should have done my research.
It all starts with trust. Every day I put my hand inside the cage, hold it there, and just talk. I talk about the weather — it’s been quite tragic in north TX lately. I talk about the book their names come from — Sense and Sensibility. (My daughter dubbed them Marianne and Colonel Brandon.) I talk about how we will be the best of friends if they will just trust me.
Colonel Brandon bit my finger and held on so hard I stamped my feet for five full seconds hoping he would let go.
I’ve even tried speaking my limited Spanish. (The birds came from a Mexican vendor at an outdoor market.)
“Hola, buenos dias.”
Sitting on the floor near the cage is my school bag. In it is my conferring notebook. It holds a roster with check marks for books read and pages for each student where I record our conversations about books and reading.
This morning I was finally able to get Marianne to step up on to a perch and gently pull her from the cage. She sat on the top, eating happily on a millet twig. Progress.
I flipped through the notebook, remembering conversations I’ve had with students this fall.
“I used to love to read,” Henry told me, but then I didn’t like textbooks so I didn’t read anything again until 8th grade.
“What do you mean textbooks, you mean like an anthology of stories and poems and such?”
“Yes, those,” he said, “I hated those, so I just didn’t read anything in middle school. Then my teacher in 8th grade let us choose the books we wanted, and I read a ton. Hunger Games, Divergent, all those dystopian books. Then in 9th and 10th it was back to textbooks. I stopped reading.”
Henry was a hard sell at first. I’d already set up the routines in my reader’s workshop classroom. He missed the read arounds, the notebook set up, the initial book talks with the titles I know students love every year. And just like with my birds, I started wrong with Henry.
I expected him to step up without question into our reading world. He didn’t.
I had to back track and build some trust. I’d do a book talk and then set the book not far from him. I’d talk to other students about their reading near enough so Henry could hear. I’d ask Henry questions and I’d listen to his answers, so he would know I cared about him as a person more than as a reader.
And Henry started reading.
Henry has read four books since September when he joined my class: Article 5, Friday Night Lights, Peace Like a River, and Labron James’ Dream Team. Not bad for a young man who went two years without reading anything in 9th and 10th grade.
For any teacher who says independent reading just doesn’t work for you or your students, I issue this challenge: Backtrack and try again.
Five things you can do to guarantee your students will read:
- Read. The more you read books you think your students will enjoy, the more you will be able to talk about books your students will enjoy. Don’t have a clue about YA? Read anything by Matthew Quick, A.S. King, Jandy Nelson, or John Green (my personal favorites). You’ll have a good start.
- Share book talks daily. Talk about books you know students love. If you don’t know titles, ask your librarian for help, read book lists like this one, read lists we’ve shared in previous posts.
- Show book trailers. I used to post book trailers on this blog. You’ll find many post with trailers, interviews, and other ideas here.
- Get students talking. The more students talk to one another about their reading the better your chances of getting all students to read. One favorite activity in my classroom is speed dating with a book.
- Give students time. I heard it first from Penny Kittle: “If they aren’t reading with you, they are not reading without you.” We must give students time to read during class. Too many teachers and administrators think silent reading is not a good use of instruction time. FALSE. The only way to become a reader — or to become a better reader — is to read. If we want students to develop the habits of life-long readers, we must help them develop the habits in class where we can help them 1) stay focused, 2) learn what readers do when they get stuck, 3) practice choosing books for learning and for pleasure, 4) make plans for future reading.
What tips can you share for anyone who’s struggling with independent reading? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. Thanks!