It’s Not Wishful Thinking – #Slice 2 of 31

After a short night (hotel room quiet urged me to turn on the TV which lead to far too few hours slept before I got moving again this morning to get to my meeting), I needed something to keep me company on the drive home. I realized my mp3 player (with all my audiobooks on it) was in the trunk in my backpack, so I scanned the radio stations. I don’t usually have the radio on at our house so I wasn’t sure what was on our local PBS station at that hour on Saturdays, but I happened upon Radiolab as it was starting.

It turns out I had heard part of this episode before (it aired last fall), but I hadn’t heard the beginning.

(Listen to the entire podcast here.)

I was happy that I was able to hear the beginning today not just because I had company for the ride home, but it gave me something to chew on.

The show begins with the guys talking about this parental daydream about how nice it would be if Lamarck was right – that parents could do things that would get passed down to their children. If Lamarck was right, then our children wouldn’t be limited by just the genetic material we passed on to them. There would be more that we could do to make their futures better than just what those strands of DNA hold.

While I was fascinated by the rest of the broadcast, most of my thinking stuck with what they were talking about at the beginning and the segment about good rat mommies – wherein they explain how parental behavior can trigger physical changes in the body (most notably through neurotransmitters) that can actually activate or turn off features of our genes.

Keep in mind that all of this aired today – on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, the day that I read this to my son from Anita Silvey’s Book-A-Day Almanac, a day when I think about how we inspire a love of reading to our children.

(I think you might be able to predict where this is going.)

All of this as I’m getting some notes ready for introducing my students to the Elizabethan’s view of their fates being written in the stars.

So this idea that everything in our DNA sets what happens for me for life seems just as limiting. We’re just moving the controlling factor of our lives from the stars to our own genes, but the implications are the same if you believe that genetics are the end all and be all of what makes you you.

This view certainly doesn’t account for so many wonderful accidents (not unlike Seuss’s lucky accidental meeting with the man who would end up publishing his first book after so many rejections).

It also doesn’t account for what we know about creating readers. Our choices as parents and teachers carry weight – and kids notice. I don’t care what DNA says – every person has the opportunity to become a reader and there are books for every reader. The trick is getting our students to see beyond this fixed view of not being able to be a ____ because they lack the inherited talent for it. I think the inheritance our children get is the gift we give to them of making a decision to do the following to build a reading life.

Read aloud to your kids. 

I have yet to meet a child or an adult who is not enchanted by hearing a story. What kinds of stories move them may be different, but we all love to listen. While audiobooks are wonderful, there is something magical that happens when someone reads aloud to you. Is it the proximity or the knowledge that someone is doing this for you, right here, right now, in this moment? Does it matter? Just walk into a room sometime and start reading something to your friend, your spouse, your child…pick your audience and pick your book, but you will get a reaction: chances are (as long as you’re not interrupting a phone call or something that requires the utmost of concentration) that they will listen quietly and attentively for as long as you are reading to them. We can’t help it.

Have a wealth of reading material available where your kids can get them.

I did laugh when I saw this infographic‘s suggestion of having books at the three B’s – bed, bathroom, and breakfast table. But it’s true here. We do this – but we have books everywhere else, too. 

In our classrooms, we need to have a wide variety of reading materials ready and waiting for our students to pick them up and read them. Ideally, they have someone there to guide them in their choices because learning how to pick books and what they like are skills and knowledge  just as necessary to lifelong readers as the ability to read.

Go to the library frequently.

Let’s be honest about a couple of things:

1. Kids need to be exposed to far more books than we can ever afford to buy them, no matter how much we sink into our home and classroom libraries.

2. Libraries have so much more to offer than just books. Just think about the additional reading role models and book recommending advisors and patient guides in the search for answers that work there. 

Be a reading role model yourself. 

Kids can smell a hypocrite. Don’t preach the importance of reading and say that you value reading if they never see you read or if you can’t remember the last thing you read.

Share your reading life. Read in front of your child or your students. Talk about what you’re reading. Live the life of a reader and show it off with pride for others to see. My friend Jillian Heise posted a great image of how she shares her reading life with her students.

Source: Uploaded by user via Jillian on Pinterest

It seems easy enough, this influence we have available to exert with great patience and hope on our offspring or our students to become readers. Maybe someday we’ll know all the reasons why these things work, but right now, I’m content to know that they do.

(I know this is far longer than most Slices are, but while I was struggling with inspiration yesterday, I’m overflowing with ideas today. Thank you for reading.)


16 thoughts on “It’s Not Wishful Thinking – #Slice 2 of 31

  1. Thanks for sharing your slice of life! Your post was awe-inspiring and motivational. I agree wholeheartedly that the teacher should be the most voracious reader in the classroom, and I absolutely love how you keep a public display of your reading life. My husband and I just left the public library, and now we are sitting in a local coffee shop, devouring books. It has nothing to do with DNA and everything to do with my third grade teacher who showered me with book love.

    • Thanks! I can’t take credit for the public display from Pinterest – that is from my awesome friend Jillian. I do want to try to swipe that idea and put my own up soon!

  2. How often do we hear our child repeat a word or phrase in the exact tone we or our spouse use? They soak up SO much from us and from their environment. Your post is a wonderful reminder of how to influence them in so many positive ways!

    • Oh my goodness, YES! Children are sponges!!! And mimics! And no matter how many times I might find myself blushing because he says something I hadn’t expected him to repeat (and I *know* I’m not alone on that experience!), when he mimics us as readers in all his Nerdy Book Club behaviors, I smile with pride.

  3. Just this week one of my most apathetic readers announced to the class, right before our read-aloud time, that this was his favorite time of the day. I was not only surprised, I was thrilled. It just confirmed to me one more time why I will never give up my time in class to read aloud! Thanks for your very thought provoking post.

    • Reading aloud is seriously magical. This may be one of the best ways to get the attention of those who are only “hafta” readers or (even sadder) non-readers. And it doesn’t matter how old your students are…

  4. Modelling and imitation are deeply powerful. Athletics and the fine arts know this intimately, and we English teachers need to move in their direction instead of trying to model our courses around the “academic”, knowledge-based subjects. Great slice! :)

    • Thank you, Paul! I agree totally. Coaches, guides, (or to borrow what Paul Hankins calls it) “lead learners” seem to be far more effective approaches in teaching English. It seems less like a content area and more like a set of life skills…

    • I was digging around for an infographic on this topic for my ninth graders for this week. They are going to read to the elementary kids in our district for WRAD. I stumbled across this one and was surprised when I saw how little time we get with our students in comparison. WOW.

  5. Your whole post was well worth the read. There is much to mind from here. The best part for me is how you showed the progress of your thought. You captured your learning as it progressed, incorporating new and old information.

    • Thank you! I honestly wasn’t sure if anyone would read the whole thing. I was hoping…but I knew it was pretty long. It means a lot that you said it was worth it – because I couldn’t figure out how to cut it down any more than I did.

  6. Cindy – I had never heard of Radiolab – thanks so much for sharing about it. More importantly, your deeper thinking about what it all means leads to some great wondering. What amazing gifts we can give our children and our students!

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