A (Reluctant) Reader’s Bill of Rights ~ A Reflection

“So Mrs. N., you really don’t care if I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid? What’s the catch?” this was the exact question I received last year from a sophomore student as I was reviewing my expectations on independent reading.

“No, I really don’t care if you read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a magazine, comics, or anything else. I just want you to read.” The bewildered looks on their faces as I scanned the room were priceless. I couldpexels-photo-261874.jpeg almost see the gears turning in their brains as they tried to figure out what my aim of this was. “You see, I really just want you to read. Would I like for you to read chapter books that are on your grade level, yes. Do I think that all of you are capable of doing that, yes. Do I believe that realistically you all WILL do that, no. But do I believe that you all WILL read SOMETHING, yes.”

One thing about teenagers, they like to talk. Last year was my first year teaching high school English after teaching elementary for the previous twenty. So as I was in the process of moving my room over to the high school, I had many of my former students (now in high school) dropping by to visit. As they would visit, we would talk about their classes, what they liked/disliked, how they were doing, and so forth. When it came to talking about their English class experiences, the talk inevitable turned to independent reading. Independent reading was something they all were required to do. They would tell me that in one class, they would read independent books and then have to do written book reports or book reports and a project. In another class, they would have to read independent books, record pages read, and orally give reports. Many of these students would laugh and say, “You know, I never really read any of the books. I just write down pages and then read enough of a summary on-line to get by. The teachers never have a clue.”

After these conversations, I spent the summer that year trying to decide what I wanted to do in regard to independent reading. I knew the importance of reading, but I also knew the rebook whispereral importance of getting the students to LOVE to read, not just read to get by for a grade. Therefore that summer, I purchased and read Donalyn Miller’s book The Book Whisperer and Penny Kittle’s book Book Love (yes the same one that is required for this class). After reading these books, and researching all over the internet, I finally came to the conclusion that what I really just wanted was for them to read. Anything. Period.

“A (Reluctant) Reader’s Bill of Rights” is exactly the position I decided to take that year. As a reader, there are many times that I will start a book only to find I don’t like it and have to quit reading. I don’t always like to read adult books, in fact, I really enjoy reading YA literature. I enjoy reading children’s books as well. I’m not the speediest reader there ever was. I love to read newspapers (or in some instances – scan as my husband says, since I am known to miss articles he thinks are important). So if I, as an adult, have the right to do these various things when it comes to reading, why shouldn’t my students?

My philosophy on independent reading has since morphed into this: I want students to learn to enjoy reading. This is not going to happen if you limit them on what they can or cannot read. Not every reader is the same; some like novels others love comics. But what we want as teachers in the end is for students to learn and hopefully even, dare I say it, learn to love reading. For me, letting them read what they want, how they want, and at times when they want, is a winning situation. They are reading, maybe not my “cup of tea” material, but they are reading. We discuss, we “book chat” or “article” chat, we still reflect on their reading, but they are not feeling like it is a chore. And in the process, they may become more voracious readers in the end….maybe.

“Hey, I just finished Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I really liked listening to you talk about The Book Thief. Do you mind if I borrowed that book from you next?” …. My heart was full.

 

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17 thoughts on “A (Reluctant) Reader’s Bill of Rights ~ A Reflection

  1. Holly,
    How cool that you already have experience with the required text! It sounds like you really care about your students and how to get them to succeed. I agree with you that students will enjoy reading more if they have some say in what they read. Required reading feels like a chore sometimes but getting to choose your own book can help!

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    1. I know, I had to smile when I saw what the required text was for this class. I just hope that through this experience with the independent reading, I reach as many of the students as a absolutely can.

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  2. Holly,

    This post was incredible. It sounds like you are an EXCELLENT teacher, and I’m sure your students have all developed their love for reading. I think you have the perfect mindset for approaching independent reading, and it sounds like it is paying off. As a future English teacher, I do have a question. Do you assign independent reading homework or just allow them time in class to read and trust they will have the intrinsic desire to read on their own?

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    1. Thank you so much! I know the one thing I absolutely wanted to do when I moved over to high school was try my best to get the students to love reading again. I know many of them enjoyed it when I had them in elementary, so I was so disappointed to see that it had now become some awful chore! For the most part, I don’t assign the reading as homework, although we do talk about that even 10 minutes at home would add up. What I do though is each week I try to conference with each student as they’re reading, then if I find that one is taking and extraordinarily long time on a book, then we set a hard deadline. So far this has worked out really well.

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  3. YES is all I have to say about this post! YES YES YES! This is what I wish all English classes were like. Time, space, opportunity for students to read with lots and lots of different books that will appeal to them. Kids WILL read–if we create the right conditions and get them access to terrific books and model a passionate reading life ourselves.

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    1. Thank you. As I replied to Timmi, I just want students to learn to love reading. I know that when I had most of these same students in elementary, they liked to read. It is so sad that the passion for reading has somehow along the way been extinguished.

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  4. Hi, Holly, your post is soooo beautifully written. Many of the ideas you talk about I have seen reflected in my classroom too. Kids love to talk and they will talk about books if given the chance. I love that you let them read whatever they want to. I have found that kids will naturally gravitate to books they enjoy, and if surrounded by a wide choice of books will move out of their comfort zones. My classes do many of the things you talk about like book chats and discussions, and I have found that students love to share their opinions and recommendations. Well, keep on reading.

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  5. Thank you Barb, that was so kind. Students do like to talk and absolutely will talk about what they’re reading when given a chance. I just wish there was more time for reading and discussing!

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  6. Hi Holly,
    Wow! This was such an enjoyable post to read. I’m beginning to implement Independent Reading with my juniors in English 11. Friday was my first day, and like you I didn’t have many rules about what the students “have to” read. I asked that they try to find something that would both interest and challenge them, and told them for now that I would like them to be reading a novel or book. However, your post maybe has changed my mind a little! If I have a student that wants to read through the local newspaper or National Geographic or Sports Illustrated, I feel like I shouldn’t stifle that urge! I look forward to reading your future posts and gaining some inspiration for my own classroom!

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    1. Thank you, Bailey. I at first also had thought that I should only make them read a book or novel, but then I finally told myself that “reading” is “reading”. So whether or not it’s the right thing to do, I think that at long as they’re reading, it’s a win for all of us!

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  7. And then these youngsters eventually read a book that inspires them to read more. They find that book, that when it comes down to the last twenty pages, they have to finish.
    I think once you have that adrenaline rush, and the book has to stay with you wherever you go, you know you are a reader.

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  8. Holly,
    Thank you so much for your post! First of all, I have been teaching elementary for 21 years and have just recently decided to get my secondary degree. To be honest there have been many times that I have questioned this, and reading that this is what you have done has made it so I don’t feel like I’m crazy for doing so. Second, I completely agree that giving students choice of what to read for their independent reading will eventually encourage them to read more. I agree, also, that there are times that as adults we don’t always think that what they are reading is what we would choose, however it is not about us, it’s about them. Like I always say, as well, I just want my students to read!

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  9. This post really hit home. I enjoyed reading about the experience you had with your students the first year because I too had the same experience. I was hit with the common “I don’t read and I don’t like to read” my first year of teaching as well. Your post made me look back and realize I am doing a few things wrong be mostly everything right by giving my students options and choice. I really enjoyed your post!

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    1. I’m so glad that my post reinforced what you are doing. Trust me, I question things I’m doing everyday and the independent reading was one I question and continue to question as to what more can I do to help these students!

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