The Pathway to Difficult Reading Begins With Books They Enjoy

Reflections on Book Love by Penny Kittle
I'm participating in not one, but two online discussions about this book. I read it as soon as it came out, but these groups are giving me time to reflect and shape my thinking. 

Introduction and Chapter 1

I started my career as a seventh grade teacher. I was somewhat shocked that all students didn't love to read like I did. So we would talk. They told me they didn't like to read. They liked to hunt and skateboard and play video games. Some were musicians, others liked to sing or draw or act. I taught football players, volleyball players, basketball players, runners and wrestlers.

But I didn't teach readers.

Reading has been a part of my life forever. I don't remember not knowing how to read. And, as a child, I was surrounded by it. Both of my parents and most of my grandparents were readers. I read everything I could get my hands on. As I like to tell my students on the first day, I'll read the cereal box if I don't have anything else.  I can't imagine a life of not reading.

Because of my love of reading, I made a promise to those 7th graders. I will find you a book that at the end of it you will be able to say, "Well, that didn't suck." (Never tell a teenager that you will find them something they will love. It turns them off immediately).

And then I work to do just that.

Now I teach high school students.  High school, where the love of reading goes to die.

"I don't have time."
"Reading sucks."
"I haven't read a book since __________."
I've never finished a book."

And I again am making my promise. Just one book...

Because I know if I can find the one right book, that may make all the difference.

It takes time to do that. It takes talking to kids. It takes a lot of books. It takes patience.
It takes a teacher who reads and shares that love of reading.

This year I am keeping my list of books read front and center in my classroom---literally. I have a poster of the books I have read, complete with stars. Another poster lists my To-Be-Read list (I need another poster, this one is full). And outside my room and many other rooms in our school hangs a poster:

Poster created by Tanya Riehle, art teacher extraordinaire.

What I like is that even some of my nonreaders ask me what I'm reading if I have left this blank.  It's a baby step toward reading, but a step nevertheless.

Quotes to Embrace:
"Allowing students to make choices about what they read has been presented in our procession, especially at the secondary level, as enrichment--something to do once the hard work is over. I believe, instead, that it is at the center of our work."

"A book isn't rigorous if students aren't reading it."

"Teenagers want to read--if we let them."

"The pathway to difficult reading begins with books they enjoy."

" pleasure in constant confusion..."

"I believe we own a reader's improvement in the year we have them."

"Nothing without joy."


  1. I like your "What I'm Reading Now" poster. Some of my colleagues and I have something similar, but they are posted in the hallway outside the classrooms.

    We need to infuse the atmosphere and culture of our classrooms with talk about books, artifacts about books, and ... books.

  2. Love the poster. I keep a list of books kids are reading. Think I'll start the new year by moving that list front and center.

    For my students, it isn't high school where the love of reading goes to die; it's middle school, and a common cause they site is AR. Literally, for every one student who claims to like AR, 15-20 others say they hate it.

    1. Yea--I understand that. I am not a fan of AR. I found that the ones that claim to like AR are great test takers and good guessers. Many admit they don't read the book all the way through. They know what kind of questions will be asked and then read some of the beginning, a chapter in the middle and the last couple of chapters.

  3. This is just the right book about which to be involved in not one, but TWO online discussions! Especially when they both involve hearing your thoughts! I love the way you process information. It is a pattern I noticed in your writing about school that you often pose a problem and then share how you began to address it: by listening to your students. This is no mistake. It is who you are as a teacher (and quite possible as a human outside of the classroom). It is one of the many things I admire about you. So happy to be in on your thinking.

    1. Thanks, Christy. You always make me feel good.

  4. Finally reading again, Deb. This is terrific, especially the way you're now sharing all that you are doing yourself with the students, like the poster of your books. You tell us so much about your book talks that I can't imagine you are "pulling" (although gently) those reluctant students along, and as you say, you'll get them eventually with that one book! Book Love talk is starting well. I hope I'll be able to keep up with you all. Company abounds!

  5. I'm famously made fun of in my family for reading the cereal box, Deb! :-) I love the idea of your posters -- ever since I read The Book Whisperer, I've been meaning to make a book door like she did, but it just hasn't happened this year. I think I like your idea of having the posters in the room and a sign on the door even better! Maybe next week over break I will make my own! :-)


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