At Any Given Moment We Have the Power to Stop the Hatred of Reading

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It used to astound me that my 4th graders would come to me and profess a hatred of reading.  It used to shock me to the core.  After all, these were the same kids that would ask for just one more page of our read aloud.  Who would ask me to read a picture book aloud the minute it came to our room.  Who had no problem confessing the love for the book we were sharing, but had none for the one they were reading alone.  I always thought that the next year’s teacher would surely get them on the right path even if I couldn’t.

Now I am the next year’s teacher, and their dismay of books has only grown further.  The group of children telling me that they never read outside of school has only grown.  And this is not a boy-reader problem, this is an any gender problem.  This is not something just caused by poverty, nor disengaged parents, nor reading difficulties.  I see the hatred of reading defended the most from my students who have had every opportunity to fall in love with reading.  I know I am not alone in this.  And I know I cannot wait for someone else to fix it.

So I started to dig a little deeper.  I get that they “hate” reading, but why?  What parts was it that caused so much emotion, or sometimes so little, that students would have a physical reaction to whenever we had independent reading time.  And their truths were not pretty, because the finger they pointed, pointed right at me.  Or us, as educators.

We may think that it is too easy to blame teachers for the systematic destruction of reading love in our schools, and it is, because there are forces beyond our control that have a huge part in this as well.  But part of the blame does lie with us, and that means we can do something about it.  Especially in the upper grades where reading is no longer treated as something magical, but instead merely something useful.

At any given moment, we have the power to stop ourselves from telling students what to read.  In our eagerness to shape well-rounded readers we are instead creating non-readers.  In our eagerness to make sure students are exposed to all types of books, we are limiting them from discovering their own reading identity.  Would we rather have a child that reads every single fantasy book they can come across, or a child that begrudgingly only reads a few books a year from other genres?

At any given moment, we have the power to make reading fun again.  Fun is a not a swear word in our schools.  There is nothing wrong with discovering a book that makes us laugh, or makes us wonder, or makes us think.  Reading does not always have to have a purpose.  It can be just to share a wonderful experience.

At any given moment, we have the power to stop interrupting children while we read.  To not point out every single detail.  To not have them do post-its for every thought they have.  To not have them turn-and-talk every few minutes.  Let them reach the reading zone as Nancie Atwell calls it.  And not just once in a while but most of the time.

At any given moment, we have the power to reclaim what reading should feel like in our classrooms.  To stop always using whole-class novels.  To stop furthering our own vision for what makes a reader a reader.  To stop hanging our own reading identities around the shoulders of students and wonder why it does not fit?

At any given moment, we have the power to create classrooms where reading is magical.  Where reading is celebrated.  Where reading is taught, but taught in a way that does not extinguish the love of the very thing we are trying to promote.  But we have to look at our own practices first, we have to stand up and change.  We have to ask our students what we are doing so that we can be better.  So that their love of reading does not have to survive our classrooms.  So that their hatred for reading does not have room to grow.  But it starts with us, not them.

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.

6 thoughts on “At Any Given Moment We Have the Power to Stop the Hatred of Reading

  1. This question of yours resonates strongly with me Pernille?
    Going to present it to my fifth graders today simply saying:
    “Your thoughts? Persuade me”

    “Would we rather have a child that reads every single fantasy book they can come across, or a child that begrudgingly only reads a few books a year from other genres?”

  2. I 100% agree. Glad someone wrote it out. My 5th graders used to vote for free read–free write time on “play days” when they got to plan the whole day. I tried to celebrate mostly inside so they would keep thinking that was perfectly normal–but I grinned big and did the happy dance while they were at special. And last year my first graders asked for a whole day to just read for one of our plans for the last days of school. And the grin, and the dance were back.

  3. Pernille, I love that you write from your heart. I’ll never forget how dreams became reality when my second daughter fell in love with books in the 5th grade.

    Her teacher had read “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” with the class. My daughter loved it so much that she just kept rereading. Her confidence increased each time. She became hooked on Civil War era stories and soon moved on to Civil Rights stories. Next she dove into the Pioneer days. Now she reads a book every two days. She’s come a long way since 5th grade. Her reading scores went from three grade levels behind to advanced by 8th grade graduation. The freedom to fall in love with stories of her choosing is what made the difference.

    I try to incorporate a lot of reading choice in my 1-2 combo class. I like using the Daily Five structure because my students get uninterrupted reading time with books they love while I teach other small groups. I can’t wait to see the magic happen again this year!

    Thanks for the wonderful post. Someone needed to speak on behalf of the kids.

  4. Avoid the prophesy: “I hate reading.” Just love reading, love the stories that unwind as we read. Love the song of the sentence, paragraph, and chapter. Love the power of words.

  5. Pingback: Inspiring Students to Read – McLean Learning Commons

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