Encouragement: Thoughts on Creating Readers in Three Parts

Last week I came back to school after NCTE and ALAN with TONS of books that I shared with my students.

I was still tired from the holiday and my trip, but I was really excited to share about my adventures in Vegas.  By the end of my first period, after I had booktalked my little heart out, I asked if anyone heard about anything they were really hoping to read.

The response from one table about stopped my heart and plagued me for the rest of the day:

non reader

My sharing this tweet with my Twitter tribe struck a cord.

No  matter what we do, no matter how passionate we are about promoting reading and sharing books with our students, sometimes a few don’t quite get it. We need to keep at it and pray that it does its fine work over time.

More than one person asked me if I had questioned the students about their answer. I didn’t initially because I was too stunned. These students have been reading and participating all year. They have asked for books and talked about books. So to hear that…it just threw me off.

So I went to class the next day and started asking questions.

“Who considers themselves to be readers?” Most hands go up.

“Who has an idea of what books they like?” Again, almost every hand went up.

“Who makes time for reading outside of the school day?” All but one or two hands went up.

Now I’m just confused. So I tell them about how that comment the day before ate at me all day and then sparked a huge discussion on Twitter the night before. I ask them what I’m doing wrong.

The positive responses from my students – including the ones from the table that started all of this the day before – were priceless.

Just one can probably sum up most of them from this class:

“Don’t change ANYTHING. You’re the reason that I love to read again.”

The students’ explanations for why they didn’t consider themselves readers? They didn’t think they met my definition of readers – that they don’t read as much as I do.

Since when did reading become a competitive sport?

I’m still pondering how that might have happened and how to prevent that misconception from coming up again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Somewhere in this mess of the first day or two back to school, we watched this video from John Green.

Since John Green ended with a mention of Where the Red Fern Grows, I brought up my aversion to the dog book genre because I can’t really stand to read books where the dog dies. And the dog nearly always dies in these books. (Except Because of Winn Dixie. Thank you, Kate DiCamillo!)

This led to the conversation of why I haven’t read the copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain that Paul Hankins sent me. I know the dog is the narrator (which makes it unlikely the dog will die – unless the story goes the way of The Lovely Bones) and I know Paul has told me I would love it (and he is usually spot on in his recommendations), but I can’t shake the anticipation and dread that the dog is going to die. I read the beginning pages to introduce it to those who wouldn’t be bothered by the dog-dying-conundrum and the most lovely thing happened.

So a student volunteered to read it and let me know if I can take it.

Little more than a week later, it was back on my desk with the assurances that I would cry, but everything would be okay.

Along with a request for another book.

(He was lucky – he wanted Period 8 and he managed to be in the right place at the right time to get it to read this weekend.)

He and I were walking in the hallway between classes and I asked him if he’d been a reader before this year. He shook his head. I asked him what book woke him up and made him realize he loved books.

He smiled when he told me, “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”

Yeah, I guess I am doing something right because I get to have these conversations all year long as my students wake up to the discovery that reading is more than just something you need to learn how to do to pass state tests.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So when I read Teri Lesesne’s most recent post about motivating our students to read, it seemed to fit so perfectly.

What I do isn’t a packaged program. It isn’t magic. There are no guaranteed results.

There is a lot of trial and error. It requires an immense amount of patience. It means I read widely to find titles to recommend to specific students. I spend a lot of time talking about books with anyone who happens to cross my path.

I want my students to love reading, to see value in the written word.

To my mind there’s no test that measures that passion that Teri talks about.

Only the sparkle that I see in a student’s eyes when they tell me about the book that made them fall in love with reading.

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