One of my favorite things to do is read. Before bed each night, I crawl under my big cozy covers, grab whatever current novel I’m reading and disappear for at least thirty minutes into a different world. Usually I lose track of my thirty minutes and I’m shaken back into the real world by my husband grunting and tossing ; mumbling that he can’t go to sleep with my light on, and would I please find a stopping point.If a movie comes out based on a book, I’m the one who reads the book before seeing the movie and will walk out of the movie theater telling everyone that I thought the book was better, to the tune of sighing and eye rolling.
I was the one who slipped the flashlight into bed with me when I was younger, waiting for my mom to come tuck me in and close my door so I could safely return to Sweet Valley High or Brooklyn or wherever my imaginary book friends would take me that night. The worst thing in the world I could be grounded from was books. When my mom figured out how effective that was, she jumped on it. Needless to say I walked the straight and narrow to avoid that punishment.I love books.
So when I started teaching, and my kindergarten friends would begin to learn to read, I was so excited for them! Just the thought of the amazing doors and windows that words would give them almost made my heart burst! Seeing them light up and things just ‘click’ for them was the greatest reward I could ever ask for.But over the course of my 17 years as an educator, I’ve watched true learning be reduced to just an education. I’ve seen less emphasis put on the development of the student and more emphasis put on cranking out test scores and trying to eliminate the ‘low extremes’ so the schools can look better.My bursting heart turned to breaking -there’s a huge difference.
When I finally realized that the love of learning, especially the love of reading, was being stripped away from our students, I immediately tried to figure out what I could do to not allow that to happen in my classroom, but still meet all that was required of me as a teacher. A very tall order for a day that was already packed full of teaching along with an overflowing plate of grading, parent emails and phone calls and meetings after school. So instead of trying to solve this challenge on my own, I went to the professionals- my then classroom of second grade students.Since I always teach teamwork and problem solving in my classroom, I sat them down one morning and told them that I had a challenge and needed help finding a solution. They were more than eager to help out. I loved the sight of twenty sets of eager eyes ready to take on the problems of the world.
I asked, “OK kiddos, I want you to look forward to reading at group time, and not feel frustrated. I want you to choose to go to our classroom library – without me asking you if you’ve visited it lately. How can I make this happen?”
Twenty sets of eyes began to glaze over, bated breaths were let out like balloons beginning to lose their helium. It was a school challenge, not a ‘fun’ challenge.Before I lost them completely, I had to back peddle and change my approach – quickly. So glad that with several years of teaching experience comes the ability to tread water and think on your feet as if your life depended on it.
I started over.“Let’s try this again. I want you to LOVE reading, and not because you HAVE to do it in school. I want you to want to sneak flashlights into your bed at night because you can’t wait to finish a book. I want you to be transported to magic kingdoms and scary forests. I want you to cheer for the heroes and cry because the ending wasn’t fair. I want you to finish a book and think ‘I could have written a better story than that!’ I want you to experience what true reading is all about. Not just this reading stuff we do in school. That’s important too, but when you leave our classroom, I want you to go home and decide to read for fun. How can I help you do all these things?”
By this time I was almost moved to tears, while glazed eyes turned to excited eyes and voices began chattering.
“Can we have flashlights here?”
“How about tents?”
“Can we choose our books for reading groups, instead of reading the boring ones we have to read?”
The problem-solving had begun. It was my turn to let out a bated breath.So through much brainstorming, voting and rearranging, here are ten student prescribed things that have worked for many years to get my students reading for pleasure :
1. I always have a comfy area set up in my library area, complete with pillows and large stuffed animals. I rearrange this area out often and launder everything frequently.
2. I always have a collection of high interest magazines available. In my opinion reading is reading. For my struggling or reluctant readers books look very frustrating and impossible to finish. Magazine articles are engaging and can be completed quickly creating success.
3. I have students set goals for their reading at home. At the beginning of the year they set individual reading goals by either number of pages or by number of books. They are working toward trophies and awards, which are presented at the end of the year program.
4. We have required books to read during our group reading time – I can’t change this. But I did MODIFY it. Instead of just taking turns reading our chapters and then discussing what has happened, I will have students act out characters or we will break out our jeopardy buzzers and I will have the kids answer questions. We also keep a chart posted of characters, setting, conflicts and solutions to go along with each chapter.
5. With our modifications, I have been able to free up a few weeks over the course of the year where the kids get to choose books they want to read during our group reading times. Talk about getting the opinions flowing!
6. With each book, I set up the ‘setting’. Sometimes we read in the tent, sometimes we read in the playground fort, Sometimes we read by candlelight. I let the kids preview the book and make suggestions as to where we should enjoy our book.
7. I ask my parents to get involved. I send home a monthly newsletter so parents are aware of what we are reading. They know about the different things we do in class and a lot of them really get on board with helping out either by helping with props or suggesting books. This also opens up the communication between kids and parents about what they are reading in class.
8. Reading and writing are always linked together. I give my students different choices of HOW they want to write, opening up the avenues to meet learning styles.
9. We do lots of art projects to go along with our reading. The kids love this, even the boys. If our book is about castles, we build castles. If our book takes place in Africa, we research Africa and create masks or African headpieces. It never ceases to amaze me at how quickly the kids will come up with ideas for projects.
10. And we keep plenty of flashlights and batteries handy.