“…but I read as fast as I can…” followed by tears and the teacher in me stopped while the parent in me took over.
“I know you do, and there is nothing wrong with savoring the words. It is okay to be a slow reader as long as you are reading, that is all I care about.”
We focus so much on quantity of books read in school. I even have the 40 book challenge adapted to my room so students know that the expectation is that they read 40 books in a year. And yet, every year I modify it for a couple of kids. They don’t need the challenge to read 40 books, they need the 10 book challenge instead, or even the 5 book challenge. And so we discuss it privately and I ease their fears that they will not do as well in reading as they should just because of their reading pace. I let them in on my secret that the 40 book challenge is not about who reaches 40 books first, but rather about reading more than one did the year before. That there is no prize nor punishment for those who do not reach the 40 books, but rather just a year long focus on the love of reading and finding incredible books to dot our path in 5th grade.
We tell children that to become a great reader one must read a lot. To become a fast reader one must read a lot. We forget about the kids that do read a lot but read slowly, enjoying every moment, taking their time and studying the nuances. We get so focused on hurrying them through the experience of reading that we forget to say it’s ok to be a slow reader, all that matters is that you read. We make them ashamed of their pace, we push them inadvertently toward shorter or easier books because they want to read a lot of books rather than just read the books they want.
And so in the spirit of reflection, I wonder what we can do to celebrate our slow readers? To make them feel that reading pace is nothing to be ashamed of and also to spread the word to other teachers that being a slow reader does not equal being a bad reader. It just means that you read at a different pace than others. That perhaps you take your time. And sure, we should encourage and help children become faster readers, but not for the purpose of speed, but rather for the purpose of being ale to devour even more books. There should not be a set reading pace for a 5th grader, there should not be a set amount of books that every child must read (and yes, I know I do this myself), but only the expectation to read. Instead, we should expect our kids to reach higher, to read more, to read better, and set individual goals. My slow readers taught me that.
I don’t have tears in my room this year over reading pace, they are all in our secret, they are all reading more without the pressure of reading enough. The biggest gift was when one student told me that he noticed that he reads faster now and how much more fun books are because he doesn’t get bored as easily. And while he does not think he will complete his 40 book challenge, he knows he will have read much more than he did the year before. And so with him I celebrate the new goal and how he is reaching it. That is what matters in reading.
I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students” will be released this March from Powerful Learning Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.