Friday, May 9, 2014

Fueling Readers

I was an under-the-covers, flashlight reader. I think I read through the entire Nancy Drew series the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade. I read big, boring books without pictures just because it felt so much cooler than reading little kid picture books. I escaped into the worlds of horses and native Americans. I read Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry over and over, longing for that breakthrough of competence and confidence with all my 4th grade heart. Later in middle school it was all the Anne of Green Gables books. 

How can we help more kids into that kind of reading, since we know it correlates with all kinds of success in school and in life? That was one of my research questions for this summer. One of the books on my reading list was The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller. When one colleague told me she owned it, and another that she wanted to read it after me (because yet another colleague had recommended it to her), I decided this one could not wait until summer. And it is a quick, easy, fun, and inspiring read. 

I’m not sure if we can (or even want to) replicate Miller’s 6th grade classroom in high school. (I’m also reading an NCTE thread about college readiness where a professor complained that students aren’t prepared because they think they can read a college textbook like they read Harry Potter.) And yet...we can do more.

I’ve done some things already:
  • Help teachers remember their own inner reader. Our students won’t be what we aren’t. So I took time at the English/social studies department meeting this past week for everyone to answer the question “What’s a good book you’ve read recently?” We had a great discussion, and a number of us wrote down titles to read. (Some of the recommendations: Girls Like UsLord of the Rings re-read, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of NepalThe Good Lord BirdWarriors Don’t Cry)
  • Help students set reading goals and find books. I’ve told students that by the end of school in June, they’re going to compile a list of at least 5 books they want to read over the summer. Two days this week there were odd chunks of time leftover when student presentations ended before the period did. One of the days I did a book pass, and one of them I introduced students to the Web site Goodreads for book recommendations. It was delightful to hear students gasp, “Oh, I want to read this!” and share recommendations. One student asked me yesterday, “The 5 books we have to read this summer--is there a certain number of pages?” I had to smile as I told him (1) there was no specified length and (2) I really hoped he would read 5 or even more books, but technically, he didn’t “have” to--I have no way to hold him accountable. But when I see him in the hall next fall, I will ask him whether he read them....
  • Model and encourage stealing spare moments for reading. First, I’ve returned to a higher consistency of remembering to put a book in my bag when I leave the house--so I can steal spare moments to read instead of wasting them. Second, I can do a better job of training my students to steal those moments. Mostly that’s something to plan for next year, but with my reading moments awareness on high alert, something is always possible. Yesterday a student was in my 1st period classroom 20 minutes early...looking at FaceBook. I just asked, “Are you finished with your outside reading?” The answer being negative, the next question was, “Maybe that would be a better use of your time right now?” The student looked like that was an epiphany and immediately shut his laptop and pulled out of his of the books from the book pass we’d done the day before! 
Isn’t it great when a little snowball starts rolling? 

Other books I plan to read this summer on the topic of free voluntary reading are Free Voluntary Reading by Stephen Krashen and Book LoveDeveloping Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers by Penny Kittle. I’ll be blogging on my reading of them as the summer progresses. As well as on a stack of other books Im hoarding in the corner of my office--books on reading, writing, grammar, social justice, academic conversations, and historical thinking--as well as several dozen novels. No, I won’t get through them all. But I’ll have fun trying, and I’ll read more than if I had no goals!

What is a good book you’ve read recently? What do you plan to read this summer? And how are you inviting your students into the joy of reading?

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