being a teacher, Literacy, Passion, Reading

The Five Truths of Reading


I have been immersed in the world of literacy for the past three days at ILA.  I have come up to breathe only at night, and my thoughts have not fully found their resting place just yet.  For every session I attend, every connection I make, every person that shares their story, the purpose only seems to grows; to change the way we teach reading in our schools.  To protect the love of reading.  Because right now we are implicit in the killing of the love of reading in our schools and classrooms.  We are implicit in raising a generation that sees less and less value in books.  We are implicit in teaching students that there are those who are readers and those who are not.  But it is not too late to change this.

There are truths that we have to embrace, live by, and preach as we continue on our mission.  These truths are not my own but ones that bear repeating.

We must protect and promote choice.  There is no faster way to kill the love of reading than to tell a child what they have to read.  And this does not just count for elementary but in middle school, high school, and even college.  Where is the choice that allows readers to find out who they are?  Where is the time to discover their reading identity?

We must withhold our book judgment.  Our glances, our purchases, our book conversations all shape the identities that our readers are creating.  When we offer a negative opinion, when we purposefully do not purchase book, when we tsk tsk at a certain book a child is reading, we are telling them that their reading identity is not correct.  And that is not our job.

We must be readers ourselves.  You must know your books and your students so that you can successfully pair them.  Children look for adult role models and they needs us as they grow as readers.  So share your reading life, hand over book upon book to students.  Tell them you thought of them as you read it and then tell them why.  Sometimes the biggest sales pitch for a book is not its fancy cover, but the relationship between us and the student.

We must be reading to read.  Not for rewards, not for points, not for accomplishment charts, or even to move through levels.  We must read to become better human beings.  We must read so that we can shape the world around us.

We must label books, not readers.  A child should not call themselves by their level, nor by a title manufactured in school conversations.  I loved how Fountas & Pinnell stressed this at ILA. And when I say “label books” I don’t mean with reading levels.  Instead, label them with stamps to show which bin they belong to, not their reading level.  We do not have struggling readers in our classrooms, they are developing.  We do not have slow readers, but meticulous ones.  We do not have children who read at a level, but books that are at that level.  The very language that we use to frame our reading conversation has to change so that it does not become the choke hold on our students’ reading lives.

There are many more truths for us to hold fast to but these are central ones.  We must find the courage to forge ahead knowing that it comes down to us to protect the love of reading we see in our students.  It comes down to us to be brave.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  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.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

20 thoughts on “The Five Truths of Reading”

  1. I really wanted to make the ILA conference but couldn’t. Hopefully next year. Thanks for sharing to inspire us all.
    Reading Warriors Unite!!

  2. It’s sad that the love of reading you are talking about is being hindered by the closing of libraries in schools. How are students going to have a choice without the selection of this rich full open environment? Take a look at your local school districts and see the statistics nationwide. We can’t help if they close the doors.

  3. What a great post! My daughter is an example of your third “rule”. Her 6th grade Language Arts teacher was excellent at suggesting books to students. He knew what their interests were and suggested several topics accordingly. He also inspired my daughter to write poetry. Being a math person myself, she was not getting this skill from me. I am glad she had someone who loved reading as much as this guy did. She writes poems to relatives as birthday presents now. He is a very influential teacher; he got my daughter excited about the written word. Thanks again for sharing your post!

  4. I completely agree with your point about with holding judgement. I have a great example of this. Early on last school year, I heard about The Book With No Pictures. I bought it and decided to break out of my old ways ( after teaching for 20+ years ) and waited to see what would happen when I read a book with the words Boo Boo Butt in it to my Kindergarten students. It was amazing. They loved it. I read it everyday for two to three weeks because each child who had the job to choose the story of the day (part of this job allows the child to bring the book home in a special bag – 180 days never lost a book) picked this book! They learned rhymes, punctuation, so many fun words and to love a book!

  5. One of the goals I am setting for my teaching this upcoming year is related to the truth “We must be readers ourselves.” I am definitely a reader. I could not imagine a world in which I wasn’t surrounded by books. What I need to do more of with my students is share what I am reading. Last year, I began to put the book I was currently reading on display in my classroom. Students would ask about it and become interested in borrowing it. Next year, I want to increase the amount of book talks I conduct. I think this is one of the best ways to help students know what kind of literature is out there for them to read.

  6. Thank you for putting into elegant words (as usual!) all the key messages of ILA15. I’m excited to keep these truths active in my classroom and plans for the year. Can’t wait for Global Read Aloud – I had the pleasure of attending your ILA session!

  7. Thanks for sharing the experience of attending the conference; I do however maintain that reading for pleasure is not for everyone- and this is ok. It doesn’t change the fact that as an educator I will be encouraging students to understand how to read for facts- a skill they will require throughout their lives. Reading for “fun” is like doing anything for “fun”; each of us has some things we prefer to do over other things. I am one who reminds parents that indeed not all will relax with a novel- or a movie, or a pair of skates, or a bike ride etc. As an educator with a focus on reading and writing, my goal is first not to scare anyone away from learning in general, then to encourage my students to grow in whichever aspect suits them best…

  8. Thank you for sharing. I’ve retweeted and shared; I hope you don’t mind. Now I ask for one more favor, please. May I reflect on these 5 points on my blog? I’ve been thinking about reading and teaching reading all summer, and as a new librarian, I want to do even better work on promoting authentic reading in schools. I teach middle school in South Bend, IN.

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