I start teaching a new group (and some old) in a few short weeks. To say I am excited would be an understatement. I love teaching, I am not that teacher that mourns the loss of my free time when summer ends, I mourn the chance to tan, I mourn the coconut oil and freedom to just sit in the sun with a book but I do not mourn the return to work because I love what I do. My favourite thing is reading with and talking about books with my students. Working through a novel and hearing the gasps as understandings are reached and Aha Moments causing an eruption of discussion. I love the moments of understanding, a connection that we reach together around a beautiful picture book but most of all I love seeing students pick what they want to read, discovering who they are as a reader and just wanting more.
This post, I hope will help you (parents of young readers), to deal with the inevitable moment when your child comes home and says that only novels count as reading in their classroom, they can’t read Diary of a Wimpy kid anymore because it is not a “real book” or reading an article online does not count for their reading homework. When your child comes home with those words in their head I would kindly ask you to tell them that they can read whatever they want. Advocate for your young readers, there is no science that says kids reading articles will make them incapable of reading a novel, there is no science out there that says reading a comic book will delay a students ability to enjoy a novel when they are ready. As a teacher of readers, I can not think of anything better than a child wanting to read outside my doors and a parent that will support them in that journey. I thank you for what you do, for the support you are to me and all the other teachers out there that are working to change a system that is still stuck in the same texts we endured as children, that still fight against the notion that choice reading and reading for fun should be limited to novels. We need your support and welcome it.
Now for a slight rant. (Parents feel free to stop reading here)
On Facebook this fine morning I was alerted to a tweet that my mentor and friend Mary Howard shared. A Teacher/Parent was discussing the fact that her middle school child came home to announce that they would be required to read for “fun” complete with a helpful list to help guide the fun (SOUNDS SO FUN ALREADY). These super lucky students have 3 option to read “Challenging Book” complete with a beautiful description “Bigger, Higher, More confusing words” or they can read “Just Right Books” those that are “perfect” for their reading level. Finally my favourite category of all “Holiday Books” (insert side eye gif or emoticon) those books, just if you are wondering, maybe want to include this wording in a note home yourselves, these are the “easy, short, rereads” If this nonsense wasn’t bad enough the next line of the note just made me sad. “Comic books, articles, ebooks-on phones, and children’s picture books are NOT PERMITTED” Oh my you come at my comics and picture books we are going to have words. Somewhere during a presentation by an amazing educator or while reading a current book on literacy practice this teacher must have fallen asleep or the threat to their own thinking was too great their brains shut down. Advocating for children to have time free reading should be free! Let them read what they want, reading an article is going to build background knowledge that will help them to connect to texts in ways they previously could not. Comic books of all forms are examples of diversity, they give us micro-opportunities to explore the author’s choices, I can’t even wrap my head around why we shouldn’t let kids use their phones as e-readers but I bet it has to do with trust and control (side eye again) and that brings us to picture books. If you are a teacher that advocates for free reading but limits kids from reading picture books I don’t know how to help you. The power of picture books, the accessibility to text, the depth of conversations that surround the ideas within. I have spent whole class periods digging deeply into the words of Jacqueline Woodson in her beautiful story Each Kindness, we look at themes through the work of Peter Reynolds and his countless stories that are both beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated. We laugh Reading the Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and we cry reading That Squeak by Carolyn Beck. If picture books don’t count as reading what does?
Free reading is a great start, let us not ruin it with some archaic idea that the only reading that matters is a novel.