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.