“You don’t have to read every day, just on the days that you eat.” That quote hung on my classroom wall for years, and now it graces my office. It’s amazing how often a student would do a double take and then chuckle.
I love to read. I don’t know how old I was when I started reading, but one of my fondest memories involves the library. Actually, it involves a librarian kicking me out of the young adult fiction section of the library because I ‘wasn’t old enough’ for THOSE kinds of books. My mom took me by the hand and led me back. Even as conservative as my parents were, books were never limited for me. I guess they figured that if the topic was over my head or too difficult, I’d just put it back.
I still have a Harry the Dirty Dog book that my first grade teacher gave me, and I remember my 8th grade homeroom teacher asking me if I had read all the books in the library in my three years of middle school. In high school, when Stephen King books were banned from our library, my English teacher brought in her personal copies to let me read. Books opened up doors to worlds far beyond the small town I grew up in, and they allowed me to set my sites on greater things.
As a teacher, my classroom was filled with books. Some we read together, and others we read in small groups. I’ve spent thousands of dollars of my own money buying classroom books. My favorite time of the day was when I read aloud. I read The Witches by Roald Dahl at the beginning of the year, and I couldn’t help but smile when I got to the part that said, “She might even – and this will make you jump – she might even be your lovely school-teacher who is reading these words to you at this very moment. Look carefully at that teacher. Perhaps she is smiling at the absurdity of such a suggestion. Don’t let that put you off. It could be part of her cleverness.” And my students couldn’t wait to hear what was next. I know the story so well, I tabbed my book so that I stopped at interesting places rather than the end of the chapter. It was music to my ears to hear them beg me to keep reading.
Not all students liked to read or were good at it, so I invested time in getting to know them and getting to know their interests so that I could help them find books to hook them and pull them in. I wanted them to find the magic and world beyond that I found as a young reader. This past June I had a graduate say to me, “You’re the reason I read.” I remember connecting him with The Series of Unfortunate Events and The Spiderwick Chronicles when he was in 5th grade. It made my day to hear him say that.
I know we have to teach reading skills and strategies, but I also think we have to just allow students to read and enjoy for the moment. When I finish a good book, I don’t sit there and ask myself inane questions about the main character or the setting. I think about how it made me feel, and what I can connect to it from my life, and sometimes I just enjoy the story.
I never used reading logs. Quite frankly, it was one more set of papers I didn’t need cluttering my desk, and it annoyed my voracious readers and made liars out of my poor readers. Plus it told me nothing about their literacy. I knew who was reading and who wasn’t because I knew my class, and I spent my time trying to connect them with books rather than recording minutes on a chart. Full disclosure, my 2nd grader has a reading log each week, and some nights he reads for 45 minutes and sometimes he doesn’t read at all. We divide that 45 minutes between the two days to fill it in. 🙂 He’s reading non-fiction books from Discover; I don’t think I need to worry about his reading level.
I also am not a fan of the reading incentive programs. Seriously, what does a pizza have to do with reading? My 5th grade daughter now has to do Accelerated Reader, and I am thoughtfully composing an email to her teacher and school to let them know all the reasons I think it is detrimental to her love of reading. Thankfully, her teacher hasn’t locked them into a reading level, but she still has a minimum number of points to earn each month. Everytime she mentions AR, I tell her that’s great, but she needs to make sure she is reading for enjoyment not for points, and I’m okay if she doesn’t meet her point goal for the month as long as she is reading books she loves. I’ve heard too many stories of kids who won’t read books that aren’t on AR lists, are told by teachers they CAN’T read a book because it’s not on an AR list, and struggling readers who don’t reach point goals because they aren’t good test takers and miss out on the monthly ‘point party’. I want her to read every day because she loves to read not because it’s assigned.
My reading interests have changed over the years. I read a lot more non-fiction. Right now there’s a stack of five books on my cabinet waiting to be read. I have to make it through the first semester of my doctoral studies and the mound of assigned reading, but trust me, as soon as the semester ends (12/6) and the last paper is submitted, I’ll be reading Bounce by Matthew Syed and Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely because the titles and topics intrigue me. Will I learn something new? Definitely, but I don’t need to take a quiz or write down my minutes read to do that. I just need to read every day.