Last year I was greeted by 3 classes of self-proclaimed non-readers. There was the odd student here or there that liked to read but years of workbooks, Lexia, AR, Crossroads textbooks written before they were born and a lot of time perfecting fake reading while their teachers sat back and planned during Independent reading time really did a number on their reading love.
I was prepared though because I had read books by Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, Kylene Beers, Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. I had learned how to help develop a joy for reading and been given the tools through these experts to help my students become not only joyful readers but thoughtful ones. What could go wrong?
Well, pretty much everything haha. They were very resistant to the idea of free reading, they pushed back when presented with the idea of choosing to read novels. They looked at me as if I I had tentacles growing from my head or I had really bad breath when I tried to conference with them over their reading ( I didn’t I checked). There was not a culture established and so the reading habits that I loved to celebrate were going to be a long road to arrive at.
I stuck to my dreams and worked through the resistance, we book talked, I overdid celebrations when books were finished. We talked in groups, we shared and then amazing things started to happen. I student connected with “Some Kind of Happiness” by Claire Legrand. That connection became a recommendation to a friend and then another. Another student read Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds another “Orphan Island” by Laurel Snyder. They started to share and pass the books between friends. More reluctant readers were picking up books after watching the newly discovered readers come asking for new suggestions. What started as a trickle grew into a stream of students wanting more books. Was every day perfect? Nope. Were the students always on task reading every day? Nope. But there was growth and it was exciting.
Some educators do not believe in independent reading time in school. The position is that the time we have is too important to not be directly instructing our students in whole class or small group setting. Add to that the belief that books should always be controlled while in school. Students need to stay within their level. These people claim if kids are taught to read and told to do so at home they just…will. It is really that easy. I had no idea. I wonder how easy it is for the kids who don’t have books at home? This is not some imaginary nightmare that teachers who favour time for independent choice reading in the class have made up to scare teachers into adopting a similair mindset. When faced with bills or books, parents will pick bills, and they should. Groceries or books to read…a hungry learner is not a learner buy the food I can cover the reading time. My mom and dad once went to help a family in need. They were moving and a tragic situation had limited their ability to pack and clean. My parents and their friends went over to help. My dad later reported to me there was not a single piece of writing in the home. No magazines, no books, no newspapers. No words. If the teacher of those children sent them home to read because it is not important enough to read choice reading at school they were sending them home to a place void of reading. This is not an isolated case. In schools around the world children go home to a place that does not have the means to support independent reading.
We then hear the, “Well ever heard of a library?” remark. Yes, I have and my response is, “Ever heard of late fees and check out limits?” A student that has fines in many situations can not take a book home from the library, those same students can’t pay the fines in many cases and thus… no more books. This again is not a nightmare scenario. I have been in multiple schools and talked to the librarians and it is the policy in more than it isn’t.
Finally, in many households around the world, we are sending kids home to an empty house. Parents are working multiple jobs or do not make at home reading a priority and so the students continue to suffer. And we can provide a solution.
Time for choice independent reading in school levels the playing field. I can make sure my students have quality books in their hands, without limits because they are late returning them and am there to help support as they need and we discover through conferencing. The argument that lazy teachers just sit around while student read independently is a sad attempt to control what teachers do in their classrooms, by people that would rather our students be sitting in desk working in some anthology textbook that wasn’t engaging when it was created let alone 20 years later for the students of today.
I started this post with the statement “Why we take the time” The why is found in the students who I thought about over the summer. The ones who left me readers and I worried that a summer without my booktalks and recommendations would result in no books read. I made the time for them and magic happened. Students I no longer teach came to talk to me about their summer reading, kids who told me they would never be readers came and asked to pop by my library for a new book, one student excitedly told me they have read 76 books since the start of grade 8 because of all their summer reading.
We take the time because we value it, we take the time to make sure our students have a chance to experience great books and joyful literacy. We take the time because we can’t control what happens outside our walls but we can control what happens in.
Independent reading combined with meaningful conferencing will develop lifelong readers far quicker and with lasting results than any workbook that promises to teach students all they need to know. Students will never discover who they are as a reader by working through a bunch of packets. They will just learn they hate packets. We need a balance but if your equation does not include independent reading we are not going to solve the problem.
The reading culture does not change in a day but a day at a time, a book at a time a student at a time it will and with that we raise readers and thinkers.
Our jobs are to guide not limit.