When Reading Becomes a To-Do

I have been in the longest reading slump of my adult life this winter.  Books have been picked up and tossed aside.  My iPad and I have entered a new relationship level as I have committed to beat all levels of Candy Crush Jelly Saga.  I spent an entire plane ride to California thinking about how I should read and then not actually doing any reading.  Both ways.  And I have abandoned book upon book, only to feverishly cram the shortest book down in a half an hour so that I could my students that I was still reading.

What caused this reading disenchantment?  Pressure.  Pressure to find the perfect book for the Global Read Aloud.  Pressure to find an engaging story to beat the last engaging story I finished.  Pressure to read more than I read the week before.  Pressure to meet my goal.  Pressure to like a book that everyone else liked.  And yes, even pressure to read some of the mountain of books that sits next to my bed waiting to spill out of the bookshelves at the slightest movement.  Good thing, earthquakes are rare in Wisconsin.

On Monday, I realized that I loathed reading.  That I would have no problem not really reading for the next year or so.  That reading and I could certainly break up and I could fake it for a while, after all I did not really have to read all those books, I could just read their reviews and pass them off to students.  Yet, in that stark realization I found my key to salvation; reading had become a chore rather than something I do for pleasure.  Reading had been added to my to-do list right beside folding the laundry and answering email.  So I knew it it was time to reclaim my reading life.  To not let this one completely self-indulgent pleasure fade out of my life.  And since last night, I have gratefully sunk into the pages of a self-selected perfect for me book and rekindled  my love slowly, page by page, minute by minute.  There is still hope for me, I am not a lost cause, because deep down, I love reading.

Yet, I wonder about our students who loathe reading.

Whose fragile relationship with reading is one marred by well-meaning intentions from their teachers that tried to change their mind.  Who will gladly accept whatever book you hand them because then at least you will stop bugging them.  Who stare at a book not as a welcome friend but as a chore, a to-do, rather than a to-love.  Who are told what to read because they do not know how to find a book by themselves.  Who are limited in their choice because they certainly cannot read that book, whatever that book may be.

I worry about the kids who do not know that reading can be something incredible and therefore go through life eagerly awaiting the day that no adult will tell them to read.  Who cannot wait to fake read their way through the next book they are forced to read.  What a skill they can perfect right under our noses.

What will ever snap them out of their loathing when the things we do to help only cause them to hate it more?  When we tell them to stick with a book rather than abandon it, when we tell them to always write about their reading or log their minutes and don’t forget the parent signature.  When we tell them to find books at their level even if their heart calls out for another.  What will break them out of their pattern of reading not for enjoyment, not for fun, not for exploration, or self-preservation, but instead for the-teacher-said-I-had-to.  Will they know that reading is meant to be an act of love?  Of dreaming?  Or will they simply count the days when reading disappears from their to-do list never to return.

I fell in love with reading because I was given the space to grow as one.  I was given the trust to pick my books and to abandon them as well.  To not produce after I read but instead be given more time to read.  I fell in love with reading not because a teacher told me I had to but because my heart longed for the pages of a book.  Can our students hear their hearts in our classrooms or does our teaching get in the way?  I think it is time we stopped and listened.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

3 thoughts on “When Reading Becomes a To-Do

  1. Wow. I sometimes feel briefly guilty for reading a book I can’t recommend to my students–a dark thriller, a dense nonfiction book, even the older end of YA, or the thick fantasies I have yet to get any of my struggling readers into. I feel better about it now, because no, I don’t want reading to become a chore, which it would be if I constrained myself to only reading books that were “good fit books” for my students.
    But the bigger issue is the question you raise about students who already see reading as a chore. I do try to not pile a bunch of busywork on top of the reading–no logs, no book reports. I want them to discover the fun of sharing your reading with a community, so I do have a menu of options of how they could do that, but I try to not make it onerous or a large part of their grade. Reading to them–again, without any expectations of how they are to respond to the reading–hooks most of the kids, but I still have students who feel just as tortured by being asked to listen to a story as they do by being asked to read one.

    What to do? I can’t force it on them, and I can’t just say, “Oh well, not everyone is going to like reading,” and leave it at that.

  2. From a me perspective, you are so right Pernille. I would hate someone to make me read what I have no interest in reading. I would hate to be asked to produce some sort of follow up for every book I’m reading. I would hate to feel the books I have sitting next to my bed were chosen by someone else for me to read. I have always had a natural love of reading. Feel guilty when I grab some time to self-indulge. However, that’s me.Yes we all have students who hate what we make them do.
    Herein lies our teacher dilemma. We want kids to read. It will benefit their literacy skills, their deeper thinking etc etc etc….some kids as you say just hate this ‘chore’ as they see it. As Wendy says “we can’t force it on them”. However, thanks to you and your love of sharing picture books with your students, I am finally finding a way to get one and all to enjoy books through ‘Story Time’ in my 5th grade class. Kids can’t get enough. Beg to grab 15 minutes to indulge in sharing a picture book with a strong message. Story time has moved into sharing a newspaper article or listening to read alouds. Interesting, engaging follow ups to the reading (sometimes) in pairs, small groups or whole class are less of ‘a chore’ if the shared reading has engaged them. The key is to choose a shared reading that will engage the whole class and to ensure it keeps them engaged – this is the challenge. At least I feel that all my students are being involved and exposed to reading in some form or another and hopefully this might ignite an interest in reading for those who turn away from books. We can only keep on trying….

  3. This happened to me recently as well. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one. I let reading become a “have to,” with a seemingly endless to do list of books I had to read…and the result was that I stopped reading altogether. For over a month. Finally, one day I started reading again – a book I wanted to read, for no one else but me. I carted the to do list books to school and passed them out to students instead. I found my love of reading again.

    But, like you, it’s really made me rethink how I approach reading in my own classroom. I tend to think that I’m doing this correctly in many ways (no reading logs, student choice, etc), but there are always areas to improve. I think I’ll have a discussion with my 5th graders about my own personal experience, and theirs, on Monday. Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

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