There is so much emphasis put on kids being able to “read the words” especially in the younger grades that I think we forget that reading should be two things. Most importantly reading should be FUN. I know that kids need to learn to read words but by the time they get old enough to really realize they are not good at that part it becomes a chore, a task that they struggle with. The idea of it being fun is outrageous. At the start of the year I asked kids what they liked about reading. A few talked about the adventures, the other worlds, the humour. Most however simply said they didn’t. They didn’t like reading, some even claimed they hated it. At some point the journey to “read the words” stopped being fun (probably once they could not do it as well as everyone else) and became work and really “work” and “fun” are not typically synonymous.
The second thing reading should be is thinking. Even those who struggle with the words should be shown how to unlock the meaning of text. Asking questions, looking for answers, thinking about the text they are working with is not a skill that should be reserved just for the “proficient”.
This year I have tried to bring the fun back to reading and we are doing it a few different ways.
1.Time-There is nothing worse that getting into a book and being told to put it away, or be constantly interrupted being asked to write notes, get out the “post its” or take out the response journals. There is a time for those activities because they work right into the “thinking” portion of reading but it should be when it is natural not at a teacher demands.
2. Choice- I have read multiple “teacher books” this year that all said choice and time are the biggest factor in making reading fun again. Kids need to be able to pick a text that they are interested in reading. This does not mean they should be able to pick any book because if they can’t read it there is no use in just staring at the pages pretending to read. But as someone who has been assigned reading before, it is a lot more difficult to find the fun when you are being told “read it because…” because why you may ask? Usually there isn’t as good of an answer for that one.
3. Instruction- We want readers to be thinkers. You will enjoy a book or any text more if you understand it. So we need the tools to understand what we read beyond just knowing the words. This year I am working with the typical strategies to fix up misunderstandings. Questioning, Connections, Visualizations and on and on, but I am adding more targeted thinking. Clues of what to look for to know what to think about. In terms some of my boys would understand, if you are going hunting you don’t just walk into the woods without an idea of what you are looking for, and my hope is that the tools we develop will help us to know what we are hunting for in our reading.
Reading words is great…but it can’t be everything. Reading as thinking becomes thinking. Thinking about the messages they read, they hear and they are presented with. That is a skill that all kids need and instruction in it is not something that can wait until they get the words right every time.