“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 could 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 real 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.