“This is not a “girl” book even if the cover makes you think it is, boys can love it too…”And I stop myself. And I cringe inwardly. And I want to rewind time for just 10 seconds and tell myself to stop. A “girl” book? What in the world is that? And since when did I label our classroom books by gender?
The stereotypes of reading seems to be a beast in itself. We feed the beast whenever we pass on hearsay as fact. We feed the beast whenever we fall victim to one of these stereotypical sayings without actually questioning it. Through our casual conversation we teach our students that there are books for girls and books for boys. We teach our students that a strong reader looks one way, while a struggling reader (God, I hate that term) is something else. We say these things as if they are the truth and then are surprised when our students adopt the very identities we create.
So what are the biggest myths that I know I have fed in my classroom?
“This is a girl/boy book.” I have said this many times as I try to book talk a book. I say it when I think the boys, in particular, will not give a book a fair chance because of its cover. I say it when I think the girls will find a book to be too violent, to have too much action. And every time I say it, I am teaching these kids that certain books are only meant for certain genders. What I forget is that I read all sorts of books. That I, as a female reader, like a good violent book. That I gravitate more toward “boy” books than “girl” books. So why do I continue to pass this on to my students? It stops now.
“This is an easy read.” Another common statement I have made while book talking. What I mean by it is that for most students the text will not prove difficult to understand, yet I know now that ease of reading looks very different from student to student. That what I may think is easy, even when I pretend to be a 7th grader, is not easy at all. That even if a book is short does not make it easy. Even if a book has a manageable story line does not make it easy. That “easy” means different things to different readers and therefore does not provide a good explanation to anyone. It stops now.
“He/she is a low or high reader.” Our obsession with classifying students based on their data does not help our students, it only helps the adults when we are discussing them. There is an urge in education to group kids according to data points so that rather than take the time to discuss each student, we can discuss them as a group. Yet the terms “low” or “high” make no sense when discussing readers. They make sense when we are discussing data points, but is that really all our students are? How many of us have taught students who were amazing readers, yet scored low on a test? What would we call them? We need to discuss students using their names and their actual qualities, not these shortened quantifiable terms that only box them in further. It stops now.
“Most boys don’t really like to read.” I don’t know how many years of teaching boys I need to finally stop saying this. Many boys like to read – period – but when we say that most don’t, we are telling them that what they love is not a masculine thing to do. That boys loving reading is something strange and different. If we want this to come true, we should just keep repeating this over and over. Our male readers will soon enough get the message that reading is for girls. It stops now.
“The older they get, the less they love books.” I used to believe this, until I started teaching middle school. Then I realized that it is not because students want to read less as they get older, they read less because we have less time for independent reading, and we dictate more of their reading life. Homework builds up as do other responsibilities outside of school. Compare a 5th grader who has 30 minutes of independent reading most days to my 7th graders that get a luxurious 10 minutes – who do you think reads more in a year? Also, I wonder if anyone would want to keep reading if they did not get time for it in school or had choice over what they read for several years? Sometimes I think it nearly a miracle that students’ love of reading can survive what we do to them in some educational settings. It stops now.
“But they are not really reading…” I used to be the hawk of independent reading, watching every kid and making sure that for the entire time their eyes were on the text. If they stopped I was there quickly to redirect. Independent reading time was for independent reading and by golly would I make sure that they used every single second of it. Yet I don’t read like that myself. When I love a book, I pause and wonder. When I love a book, I often look up to take a break, to settle my thoughts. When I love a book, my mind does not wander but I still fidget. That doesn’t need a redirection, that doesn’t need a conversation, that simply needs to be allowed to happen so I can get back to reading. Our students are not robots, we should not treat them as such. Re-direct when a child really needs it, not the moment they come up for air. It stops now.
“They are too old for read alouds…picture books…choral reading…Diary of Wimpy Kid…” Or whatever other thing we think our students are too old for. No child is too old for a read aloud. No child is too old for picture books. No child is too old for choral reading. No child is too old for books like Diary Of A Wimpy Kid. Perhaps if we spent more time showcasing how much fun reading really is, kids would actually believe us. It stops now.
The myths we allow ourselves to believe about reading will continue to shape the reading lives of those we teach. We have to stop ourselves from harming the reading experience. We have to take control of what we say, what we do, and what we think because our students are the ones being affected. We have a tremendous power to destroy the very reading identity we say we want to develop. It stops now. It stops with us.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.