For Christmas Julie got me the most wonderful reading journal. I love it so much. I threw it in my bag with my awesome fine tipped pens and a few books before heading out to family dinner at the in-laws. With the mountains in the background I read and started taking notes on The Curious Classroom and then switched over to Ban this Book by Alan Gratz.
I have to be honest as I loved Alan Gratz Refugee from the moment I opened it. Ban this Book is so far so different and my experience starting it was not the same. A elementary character that just did not grab me in the first few chapters was starting to lose me. I do not break up with books normally as I feel that there is always something if you give it time and I have a lot of time right now so I dove back in and now I am invested. What did it for me you ask? Well the character and her struggles finding her voice have me rooting for her now but this great quote just caught me and got me thinking about our practice as teachers and how we influence our students reading lives.
So I read this quote a few times, wrote it in my journal and then looked at it again when I got home. I realized the power in it’s words when applied to practice of both myself and my peers. I want to break down my thoughts and look at each portion of this quote.
- Books should represent different points of view– We have all heard the “books should be mirrors or windows. Representing ourselves or the world around us students need access to books of all types. I think however that we often forget that our students have so much going on that we do not know about that books may not reflect them because we don’t know them. As I read Curious Classroom the point of knowing 10 things about our students. How can we build classroom libraries that help our students see themselves or the world if we do not know our students? I had no idea the impact Orbiting Jupiter would have on a student in my classroom or Some kind of Happiness both were just a matter of chance that matched themselves with students who those books became mirrors for even in the smallest ways. Building a classroom library that is diverse not just though race or gender but also conflict, experience and even setting plays an incredibly powerful role in building the reading lives of our students.
- The difficulty of the book should not be the deciding factor in if a student can read the book- I may have some disagreement on this and I am ok with it. I dislike the practice of “good fit books” as a litmus test on if a student can check out a book. I do think of course a student should pick a book that they can understand and enjoy with minimal errors but I do not think a student should be told, “That book is too hard you can’t read it”, or alternatively, “That book is too easy for you, you can’t read it”. I am definitely too strong a reader for Hatchet by Gary Paulsen but I love that book and dare someone to tell me I shouldn’t read it. Telling kids they shouldn’t read books that look interesting to them because it is too easy or too hard builds a resistance to read in kids. A student that starts to believe books are too hard will stop reading, a student that is told they can only read books that are harder learn to resent reading as work and abandon their favourite stories. Advise our students, check in with our students, please do not limit our students.
- Let students read books we do not agree with– This is tricky for some, I know a teacher that whites out all the language she does not deem appropriate. I know others that censor their school library collections of any content they deem immoral. Of Mice and Men for example is not read in some schools because of language concerns, I caught myself while reading aloud hesitating as a character used language some would find questionable. I think in situations of a read aloud a little self censorship is fine, I do not think we should be limiting students book choices based on our beliefs as it directly goes back to point one. I like to tell my students about the books and the content in them. Would I be comfortable with a grade 5 student reading The Hate U Give? Nope, but that is due to the maturity of 10 year olds and dealing with the content not censorship. I think as the professionals we can make those calls on an individual basis and we need to. If all we supply our students with are the books we deem appropriate with the content we are comfortable with we are not doing anything to build their unique reading lives, we are just trying to clone ours.
I go back to the start of this post and my lovely new journal that proclaims I cannot live without books. The reading lives of our students depend on use helping to nurture that passion to discover who they are as readers, they depend on use to guide but not push, to talk and discuss but not tell. I want my students to develop their own voice as a reader not my voice on repeat.
Freedom to read what they want, learn who they are as readers and what they are passionate to read more of is the goal going into the new year. It should be a fun adventure.