Why is it important to talk about our reading lives with our students?
Amy: If I want my students to be readers, I have to be a reader myself. The same holds true for writing. I am always surprised to meet English teachers who do not read and who do not write. This is our content! Seems like if we want to have any kind of credibility, we must practice the craft we want our students to learn. At least that’s what makes sense to me.
Of course, I’ve grown into this philosophy and this practice. When I first began teaching, I taught literature instead of teaching students. I think when I learned enough about my role as a secondary English teacher, and when I began challenging the status quo, I learned the importance of walking my talk. If I want students to read, I must model for them my life as a reader.
Shana: Many of my students don’t have a role model who’s a reader. I know that a large part of my identity as a reader growing up was shaped by my mother who was a reader.
I remember weekly trips to the library, a mom who held up her hand to finish a page before I could ask her a question, and having a bookshelf for a headboard in my childhood bed. I lived a reading life from day one, because my mother did. That is not the case for many of my students. There is no one to model for them self-selected reading, the act of reading for pleasure, or the skill of choosing texts that will absorb a reader. That’s why I have to be that person for my students–or at least, another person to model those skills for them.
How has your reading life changed since you began sharing it with your students?
Shana: I know that when I’m tempted to be a lazy reader, remaining on the downhill portion of my reading roller coaster, I think of how often I encourage my students to push themselves with an unconventional genre, an award winner, or a lengthy tome. Then I feel like a hypocrite if I just pick up another trashy romance novel, so I challenge myself with something weightier instead. Now, during pregnancy, I find myself much more deeply affected by difficult themes in books, so when I’m tempted to avoid them, I remind myself to be a better role model (as I’m doing now with Leaving Time, whose themes of a missing mother and elephant grief make my cry at the drop of a hat).
Amy: I didn’t know you read trashy romance novels, Shana. Ha. I love a good romance, but I rarely find time for that kind of pleasure of late. I’ve been a reader since the time I fell in love with Anne of Green Gables way back when. Now, I am a purposeful reader. Maybe that’s why I have a hard time relaxing — I always have some master plan. I cannot even remember the last time I just read for the pleasure of it. Shana, you and I both wrote about that in the past. Here and here. Look at this recurring theme.
While writing this I’m realizing that I have not been a good reading model lately. I haven’t snuggled under the covers with a book and let the language carry me away. I read because it’s a responsibility. Kinda the way many of my students feel about reading for my class.
Aha! I need to do some things differently. Starting now.
During which portion of class do you tend to share your reading life with your students?
Amy: Sure, I share my reading life during class, but my favorite time is the impromptu talks that happen with students in the hall or just before class starts. I love talking about books, and students come to know that about me.
Just today, a former student stopped in my room and asked if I could tell him about a book. I said sure, and he proceeded to tell me in a waterfall of words about the midterm this week in his new English class.
“They read The Crucible, and I need you to tell me what it’s about.”
I know, not exactly the same as sharing books for the love of them, but hey, this kid knows I know a lot about a whole lot of books. (I did not tell him about The Crucible. I might have mentioned Sparknotes.)
Shana: I share mostly during conferences or booktalks. When I booktalk, I tend to tell the story of my reading of the book (like on the treadmill at the gym, when I cried publicly while finishing We Were Liars), including when and where and how I read it. During conferences (both formal at a student’s desk, or informal at the bookshelf), I use anecdotes to help illustrate a skill’s development with students. And, occasionally, I use a snippet of my reading life to introduce a quickwrite–like creating an ideal bookshelf.
Amy: I am glad we discussed our reading lives. As always, you’ve pushed my thinking here. I can do more to model and talk about my reading life with my students, especially reading for pleasure. That means I need to walk the talk I give my kids a lot more often. Maybe I’ll take a stroll through the shelves at Barnes & Noble, asking myself: If you had nothing on your schedule — no expectations from anyone or for anything — what book would you want to curl up and read?
Readers, I’d love your suggestions. Any amazing books you’ve read lately?
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