My mother never told me what to read. Neither did my teachers. Sure, I was an insatiable reader, a child that loved riding her bike to the public library only to return with the biggest bag of books my handlebars could handle. Sure, I would sometimes stay up past midnight just to see what would happen next. Sure, I used to be able to read in the car without getting carsick. And yet, it wasn’t because I read just right books. It wasn’t because I logged how many minutes I read at home and at school so that I could see the pattern. It wasn’t even because my teacher told me I would love this book and I had to read it next. It was simply because I loved the freedom of reading.
The freedom of reading….
How often do we discuss that in our classrooms? How often do we just let our students read whatever they choose and then let them discuss however they want why they just loved reading whatever they chose? How often do we let them sing the praises of a certain book even if it is not just right for a majority of the class? How often do we let them try that book even if we think it may just be a tad too hard, too long, or too boring?
The freedom to read….
We seem obsessed with the particularity of reading. Of breaking it down into nothing but strategies so that students understand what great readers do. Of logging every minute and every page. Of finding “just right” books through levels and forcing them upon children because we know best. Yet the problem with breaking something down is after a while all of those pieces become just that; pieces, and we lose sight of why we did it at all. When reading becomes a strategy to master, we forget about the love that should be a part of it as well. When we take away students freedom to read, we take away a part of their passion, a step of the path to becoming kids who just love to read. And when we continue to tell them what to read, we take away part of what it means to become a great reader: knowing thyself.
So when we discuss “Just right” books don’t forget that that may just mean just right for that kid. Just right for their interest. Just right for their passion. Just right for their curiosity. Just right for their need. And that may have nothing to do with their reading level. When we discuss strategies don’t forget the big picture and what the goal is. When we discuss logs and minutes and genres, well, just don’t discuss reading logs, please. In fact, do your students a favor and get rid of them. If you want to see why, read this post by Kathleen Sokolowski titld “How Do You Know They Are Reading?” and then think about it.
Give students the freedom to read so that they may want to read. How powerfully simple is that.