Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just Read

"One third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
Forty two percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year."  Jenkins Group


Our classroom library


Yesterday I posted that quote and a link to a blog post entitled "Time to Get Angry About Reading" on my Facebook page. It sparked a lot of response--mostly surprise by adult friends that people aren't reading ( I seem to surround myself with people who do read). But a former student posted that he probably won't read after his Freshman HONORS program because there are too many other things for him to do. Whatever reading he will do will be interesting things he finds on the internet.  YIKES!

But I know what I think is the cause of the problem. We teach reading to death. We kill whatever spark there is in a student by analyzing and comparing and talking and writing and lit circling and assigning... we take the joy out of reading.  I HATED that as a student. Teachers had terrible taste in what books students should read.  Teachers were slow to embrace Young Adult literature.Teachers thought if it was old, it must be good.  I rebelled. I read the Cliff Notes and whatever I could find on the public library's shelves.

I LOVED the public library. Especially after we moved to the other side of town and the BIG library was within walking distance of our house--important when you had a mom who didn't drive.  I loved the smell of dust and old stories as I walked through the front door. I loved climbing the stairs to the fiction section and losing myself in the stacks.  I loved that no one told me what to read. I could spend hours there.

I made friends with Scarlett and Francie Nolan. Jane Eyre and Scout.  Jo March and Rebecca.  And hundreds more.  My parents were readers and they didn't tell me I wasn't old enough for a book, they just let me read what I wanted.  And today, I am a reader--but I still hate to be told what to read (which is why I sometimes struggle with our book club books).

So, when given the freedom, I teach that way.  I rebell against the teaching of class novels and lit circles.  I encourage students to pick out their own books. I tell non-readers that I will find them at least one book that they will look back on and say, "Yea, that book didn't suck."  And then I do...

You see, I am a teacher who reads. I read adult books. I read young adult books. I read reviews of books. I talk about the books I am reading. I listen to kids talk about books they like.  I pass them on.

Roomie and I have close to 1000 books in our classroom library. Some the school bought for our second chance reading class, but MANY are ours. And we share... Teachers and students alike come to our room to check out books. Many are kept over the summer because they didn't get finished. We hear "Find me a book I will like" many times throughout the school year. And, we do.

We talk to them and ask them things like, "What do you like to do outside of school?" and "What was the last good book you read?"  I have sent them to sites to find new books. We give them LOTS of choices to look through. We make our book shelves user friendly.

So how do you get people to read? You let them read what they want. I know, you HAVE to teach the novel. But are you teaching the literary parts of the novel or are you teaching that particular novel? All novels have the same parts--let the kids choose what novel. Give students time to read without having to do anything with the book.

In these days of high stakes testing, it is easy to make the excuse that we have to get all our curriculum in. But I believe if we let students read what they want, they will read. And, they will surprise us.

17 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree with you more. I am a strong believer that a just right book can inspire the reader within. I try to get to know the child and then put multiple books in their hands so they can make the choice. Then you help teach the reading strategies and structures with independent time to enjoy the story. Keep inspiring!

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  2. Yes, yes, yes! I agree so much with you! Have your read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller? She promotes the same thinking. I think it is a teacher's responsibility to be a reader and devour books so they can point students in the right direction. Thanks for this post!

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  3. I haven't read the Book Whisperer, but it is on my list. I may have to head to Amazon!

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  4. This post resonates with me. Freedom of choice and time to get lost in the book are crucial for enjoying reading. The Reading Zone by Nancy Atwell is another book that relates to this topic. I am glad when the students pick up a book that I have recommended, but I enjoy even more when they recommend books to me.
    Spread your passion for reading!

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  5. Amen sister! We are all on board with you . . . now if we could only get those teachers/administrators to buy in! I just finished reading The Book Whisperer by D. Miller and yes, you will be shaking your head in agreement with her! A great PD read that will strengthen your case for choice -- and through all that choice comes reading and thinking and to make the administrators happy -- passing the test! But we need to teach the love of reading! Let the campaign begin!

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  6. Yes, I'm living proof! I wasn't a reader until I was 50 years old! It's a long story but essentially it was the right book that changed my life!!! Thanks for sharing! :o)

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  7. The 80% of families who haven't read or bought a book....breaks my heart. You captured yourself as a lover of books and advocate for books so well.

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  8. Schwade--I think we must make up for the 80%!

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  9. I thoroughly agree that we need to focus on the love of reading! I wonder, where did you get your facts?

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  10. The first time I saw that video was at Donalyn Miller's workshop (author of The Book Whisperer). Funny coincidence (if you read the comments above). Your post demonstrates exactly why the Two Writing Teachers community has changed the way I approach life. TWT gave me evidence that there are others like me out there who are living and teaching and believing best practices. The administrators in my district agree that these are best practices, yet fail to change policies that stand in the way. It is inspiring to me, it literally breathes life into me, to know that so many like-minded people exist. It is what makes me push for more.

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  11. Wow -- those stats at the top are heart wrenching. Thanks for taking the time to post about this.
    Ruth

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  12. Adam--the facts at the beginning came from the original post. I linked to it.

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  13. Even though I am a voracious reader - during the summer - I remember graduating from college and needing a year to get back on track. All I could handle was short magazine articles.

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  14. Your post is inspiring, Deb. I'd love to sit down & talk about books. I find that getting that right book to the right student is so crucial, & it seems that you have made it your business to do so. Many of my best students are those whose parents were readers too, & came in to talk about books along with their children. They sent me books, the students brought in books, etc. It must become a culture like that. Thanks for saying it so eloquently.

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  15. Oh so correct. I absolutely agree with you. The whole class novel and overanalyzing completely kills any desire to read. Yawn. I highly recommend The Book Whisperer as well. Your post basically summarizes the book.

    I want your library. Some day...

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  16. What do you think of assigning a book assignment and then allowing students to pick their own book to complete assignment? Do you do that instead? If so, how does it work for you? Do students get the meaning (literary elements, etc) that they are suppose to?

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  17. Bree--MANY of the books I have added to the classroom library have come from garage sales, I just bought a hard cover copy of "The Book Thief" for a dollar!

    I do have a novel unit that I have put together, that does just that. I usually teach many of the literary elements during a short story unit and then review them as students get to the elements while reading their books. It usually works quite well.

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