During a recent #bproots chat on the article, Seven Ways Schools Kill the Love of Reading in Kids – and 4 Principles to Help Restore It, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/12/06/seven-ways-schools-kill-the-love-of-reading-in-kids-and-4-principles-to-help-restore-it/ @professornana suggested that we might blog about this important topic.
I have decided to share about how my son became an independent reader, with specific tastes – someone who sees himself, proudly, as a reader. It doesn’t align completely with the article, which is why I think that it may be important to share that not all students arrive at an “independent reading” life in quite the same way.
For my son, it started with heavy doses of librarians, teachers, and myself suggesting books that might interest him. If a book was not of interest, he would immediately put it down. I had to preview many texts, to ensure that they were not “too mature” or would introduce, for him, complicated social information, that would need to be interpreted. One time, I offered him a book that had too many “fantasy” elements. He returned it after about two pages with the comment, I don’t understand what they are talking about. I had to respect this. He was not ready.
A lot of math books came home. Luckily, so did books like Cam Jansen, to help open the world of mystery and problem solving. In third grade, his teacher recommended for him to read Roald Dahl’s book, Danny, The Champion of the World. This over-achieving mom bought a whole Dahl box set. He read all of the books – fantasy was something we could do, if it was well-crafted. This sort of reading eventually led to The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. After a while, we could do a little Harry Potter (we have not progressed past the fourth book because they get a bit too dark; I have to monitor how much PG+ imagery gets into his hands due to extremely vivid dreams). Now, he will read many genres and types of books. He has enjoyed the biography of Steve Jobs, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, and the nonfiction book about Solomon Northup. He has read Kate Messner’s Capture the Flag books. This summer he enjoyed Ungifted, Belly Up, Poached, and Joey Pigza books. He really enjoys books that are funny. He reads comics voraciously. This habit definitely started with the Frankie Pickle series, especially the one about math. He is a voluminous reader who has also read the Bible twice (literally).
But for all of this to happen, he had to start on “required” reading assignments. 20 minutes. Every night. A signed log. It was tangible and predictable. It made sense. There were times when he resisted writing a nightly summary. It was important for myself and his teacher to hear that these were “boring.” She did. Summer lists came out and we chose through the books that sounded interesting to him – no sports books allowed. Without these recommendations and lists, and without building these habits of reading, he might not have developed into the reader he is today. And he is most definitely a reader.
Through these external structures, he has become a reader who understands that reading every day is healthy reading. He finds a place for it among his other preferred activities now, without an assignment (although reader’s workshop). He is always “reading a book.” He listens to book talks in class and has tried the Maze Runner series based on a peer’s recommendation. (It did become a bit too “much” after a while, but I didn’t want to say no to an expressed interest). He knows what he likes and dislikes as a reader, yet is still willing to try new things.
All this said, when reflecting upon how he “became a reader,” I think balance is key. Some students may actually need and respond positively to a reading log and nightly assignments or expectations, if only to get this way of life started. It’s about knowing the reader, seeing how they personally respond to the “homework” and recommendations, and having support from home. There are many ways to create a reader.