We want students to read. It has its own class. Reading is woven into our everyday lives. Can you remember the last day when you didn’t read? I mean, it obviously isn’t today.
We “Drop Everything And Read”. We read silently and out loud. We read in groups and to ourselves. We have students read when they finish work. We read to them. We ask them to read over the summer. We have an entire, beautiful room full of books that we encourage students to visit. We teach them how to improve their reading and we teach them how to enjoy their reading.
Okay, I get it. Talking about the greatness of reading is like talking about how awesome air is. “Man, you ever breathe? I took breaths all weekend. Lungs are cool!” Yet a curious thing occurs regarding reading.
Are you discouraging or creating a love for reading?
Teachers with the best of intentions, sometimes discourage reading. I’m not talking about asking students not to read when it is inappropriate to do so. I think we can all agree that it isn’t safe for a student to hold their book over a flame during a science experiment or while playing soccer. I’m also not talking about students avoiding assigned reading, like when they ask to read their novel while the short story sits unread on their desk.
It occurs during self-selected reading time, when a student opens up one of those books that we think is too easy.
You’ve seen the books. They come in many forms. Manga, graphic novels, comics, Minecraft reference books. Books with the too many pictures and not enough words. Books that they read over and over again. Books that some students absolutely love. Backpacks and lockers are filled with them. Students flock to them in the library and talk about them at lunch. Yes, honestly. They talk about them at lunch.
I understand why these books are frowned upon. All of the complaints against them are correct. Reading books like that are not teaching much academic vocabulary. They are not improving understanding and reading skills as much as novels. Plus you can argue that looking at a bunch of pictures isn’t really reading.
And those reasons are precisely why students pick them.
Think about why a student doesn’t choose a challenging book. They either don’t want to be challenged or, more likely, they don’t believe they can read a book like that. Would you read a book written in a language you didn’t understand, or on a subject that made your head hurt with confusing nomenclature and that bored you to tears?
Of course not, and when we undermine students choice to self-select books, we do what we don’t want to do as teachers. We make them not want to read.
I’m all for encouraging students to read higher level books. I’m all for installing the confidence that they can read those books. I also think students should understand that there will be times when they need to read something that they might not be super-excited about and that they should challenge themselves with more difficult texts from time to time. There is a time and place for that. During instruction or small group time or when I’m reading to or with them. Helping students improve their abilities is, well, teaching. Eventually, we want them to choose the more difficult book. Choose.
When a student has the freedom to select a book to read, their answer will often be very simple. It might be worded any number of ways, but the basic premise comes down to one thing: They chose it because that’s what they wanted to read.
They wanted to read! I think that’s a good thing.
Commit to create a lover of literature in your classroom!
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