We seem to be run by the rules of what came before us. We seem to be trying to uphold traditions that were started all in the spirit of becoming better reading teachers. And yet, I think it is time for us to break some rules, to become reading warriors, and to speak up and say no; this is not what reading will look like in our classroom. This is not the reading experience that my students will have, this is not what will make students fall in love with reading. So I present you with some rules that seem to perpetuate much of our reading instruction and encourage you to break them just like I have and so many others before me.
Rule number 1: You must read X number of pages before you abandon a book.
I used to enforce this; give it 30 pages, give it 50, then I read the False Prince and I told them to keep reading to page 88 where it gets so, so so good. But that is not how adult readers read. I sometimes abandon books after a chapter, after a page, after a paragraph. I listen to the voice inside that tells me that there is just something wrong, that this book is slowing down my reading love and that it is not the right fit at this particular moment. In our classroom, we practice free book abandonment, but we also reflect on why we are giving up on a book. It offers students a wonderful chance to learn more about their own reading identity. So when we see a child serial hop from book to book, don’t stop them, instead ask them why. And when they tell you that they don’t like the book, ask them why again.
Rule number 2: You must read a book from every genre.
I used to have students read books from certain genres so that they had been exposed to them all, and yet, most students hated it. So now instead I make sure that our book shopping is varied, that I book talk many genres, and also that they have access to many genres. There is no requirement to read outside of a genre, but only gentle recommendations. We need to celebrate the students that have identified themselves as lovers of a certain genre, after all we do as adults, rather than force them into thinking that somehow they are not true readers because they are not exposing themselves.
Rule number 3: You must fill out a reading log.
My biggest problem (and I have several!) with reading logs is that it inherently shows students that we do no trust them. By asking them to record how much they have read outside of our classrooms, we are telling them that their word is not enough. When we ask parents to sign, our message is even stronger; you may have said this but I only know it is true because your parents agreed to sign this. Is that really what we want to tell our students? And as a parent who has forged her signature on a summer reading challenge, I can tell you, I would do it again if it means that my child does not have to distill her love of reading books into minutes or pages. Her reading love deserved better than that.
Rule number 4: Reading is only something you do with your eyes.
I used to tell students that for a book to count for their book challenge that it had to be read. And reading means they do it with their eyes. Now I know that reading can also be auditory, whether by listening to an audio book or being read aloud to. That students can still experience a deep connection with a text even if their eyes have not processed it, and that audio books level the playing field for so many of our students who feel like they are bad readers. Reading is many things, let’s make sure that in our rush to define it, we do not alienate the students that need alternative methods the most.
Rule number 5: You must only read books at your level.
Levels were never meant to confine or define a child, but instead meant as a tool for a teacher to select text for guided reading instruction. Yet our obsession with placing children in boxes has made levels prevalent in our schools and in the minds of students. If our goal is to create students who identify as readers outside of our classrooms then they need to know themselves as readers. They need to know what they prefer, what they can read, and also what type of book they need at that very moment. That changes based on their life, and not just their growth, just like it does for us adults. Having students select books based on a level robs them of the chance to figure this out, and in turn, counteracts everything we are trying to teach them.
Rule number 6: You are too old to read this book.
If I only read books that fit my age then I would never read a YA or children’s book again, and that goes for our students as well. Reading books that may be too young is a way for students to relax, to build confidence, and to read a book they feel like reading. How often does our helpful rules really just hinder a child from reading?
Rule number 7: You must create something after you finish a book.
When I finish a book, I often hand it to a friend. Sometimes I book talk it to my class, sometimes I write a review, other times I quietly place it in a bin. I do not write a journal entry, I do not create a book report, nor do I make something to show off the theme. When students finish a book they should have an opportunity to discuss the book, to recommend it to a classmate, to share their love of it with the world, if they want. They should not have to choose from a long list of projects to prove that they, indeed, did read it.
Rule number 8: Picture books are for little kids.
Every day, almost, we read a picture book in our classroom. In fact, picture books are serious business here, as I use them to teach students how to infer, how to closely read, how to think deeply about a text and then be able to discuss it with others. We use them as mentor texts as we work on our writing craft. We use them as we build our community. And yes, we use them because picture books make the world a better place and they remind students that reading is meant to be fun and magical. A student told me the other day, “Mrs. Ripp, I am not so sure picture books are for little kids anymore…” And I knew exactly what he meant, because a text that rich should not just be reserved for young kids.
Rule number 9: Graphic novels are not real books.
Graphic novels can be just as complex as the hardest chapter books. In our classroom, graphic novels can be a lifeline; a way to reach the kid that swears they will never love reading, a way to reach a child that cannot get through a chapter book. I have students using graphic novels to find the signposts from Notice and Note at the moment. I have students finally connecting on a deep level with a book that happens to be in the format of a graphic novel. I am so thankful to all of the authors out there creating these magnificent books that prove once again to my students that great books do not just look like one thing.
Rule number 10: You must reward reading.
Reading is it’s own reward to quote the fantastic Teri Lesesne. The minute you attach a reward to reading you have diminished the act of reading itself. Think hard about the stickers, the prizes, the special events based on pages read and instead find a way to celebrate the very act of reading by getting more books, by finding more time to read.
Rule number 11: You must not judge a book by its cover.
I do it all the time. We all do. What we need to teach kids though is that covers are not the only way we should judge a book. That even if a book has a terrible cover, which some amazing books truly do, that they then should move on to checking it in other ways; by reading the back, by skimming a few pages, by asking a friend. For students to see us as reading role models we must not hide the true habits we have but instead celebrate them and share what we do. Students do not need to see how we pretend adults pick books, instead they should see how we really pick books, and that includes judging a book by its cover.
I could have gone on, but these are the rules that stood out to me. I shudder at how many of these I have had in my own classroom and am grateful to the people that have shown me a better way. We can create classrooms where students fall in love with reading, the choice is ours.
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!) just came out!