Three Keys to Creating Successful Reading Experiences

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It’s January.  In the perfect world all of my students would love reading by now.  All of my students would bring their self-chosen book to class, eager to dive in, begging for more reading time.  In a perfect world, every child would have a goal they were working toward, every child would be eager to book talk their books, to browse our library, to read outside of class.  I don’t teach in the perfect world, I don’t think anyone does.

Instead, by now here in January, I have kids that still show up with no books.  That still tell me they hate reading.  That still would rather flip the pages and not actually read anything.  I still have kids who don’t read outside of class, who have no goals, who would rather do everything they can to avoid having a reading check in with me.  Not a lot, the numbers have dwindled, but they are still there, they are still prominent, and I still lose sleep over how to help them have a better relationship with reading (or writing, or speaking, or English, or even just school…)

We all have these kids in our classrooms, in our learning communities.  These kids that seem to defy the odds of every well-meaning intention we may have.  Who do not fall under our spell or the spell of a great book.  Who actively resists not so much because they want to but because they feel they have to.  And so our initial thoughts are often to tighten the reins.  To tell them which book to read.  To hand them a reading log so that you can see when don’t read.  To tie in rewards to motivate or even consequences to punish.  We create lesson plans with more structure, less choice, less freedom overall thinking that if we just force them into a reading experience, perhaps then it will click for them.

We must fight our urges when it comes to the regimented reading experiences.  What these kids need is usually not less freedom, more force.  What these kids need is not more to do when it comes to their reading.  What these kids need is not the carefully crafted worksheet packet with its myriad of questions that will finally make them read the book.

What they need is patience.  Repetition.  Perseverance.  I am not in a fight with these kids.  I am not here to punish them into reading.  I am not here to reward them into reading either.  I am here to be the one that doesn’t give up, even if they have themselves.  I am here to be the one that continues to put a pile of books in front of them and say “Try these…”  I am the one that will repeat myself every day when I say, ‘Read…” and then walk away.  Who will crouch down next to them and ask them how they feel and listen to their words, even if I have heard them a million times before.

We look to external systems and plans because they entice us with their short-term promises.  We fall under the spell of programs, of removing choice from those who have not earned it, in an effort to get these kids there faster.  Yet, what I have learned from my students is that every one is on a different path.  That every child is on the journey  and while their pace may be excruciatingly slow, they are still moving forward.

So our classroom is not perfect, and neither am I.  I cannot force my students to read but I can create an ongoing opportunity where they might want to.  And so that is what I will do, every day, up until the last day, hoping to reach every single one, even if I have not reached them yet.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then 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.

6 thoughts on “Three Keys to Creating Successful Reading Experiences

  1. Your goals are brave! And I love your reflections for students. It’s challenging to give them the kind of freedom we enjoy as we choose, record and read more. Working to get them closer is the goal!

  2. “So our classroom is not perfect, and neither am I. I cannot force my students to read but I can create an ongoing opportunity where they might want to.”
    Pernille this excerpt from your post is honest, real, practical.
    In Australia our new year begins 1 Feb 2017. We all create goals that we hope are achievable…
    You have just created my goal for the year. This one I can try my best to make happen. I intend to share this with my brand new Year 4 students. Thank you.

  3. Pernille, as always your wise reflections give me such inspiration and a timely reminder, before the new school year starts, what my 2017 goals should be. Thank you for your honesty and wisdom.

  4. I hope this is okay, but I forwarded this blog post to all of my students’ parents. As I told them, you summed up exactly the way I feel about reading in my classroom, so it didn’t pay for me to try to state it any better. There is wisdom in your words. I’m glad I’ve gotten to the point of understanding that it will not help to give into that urge to clamp on the reluctant readers with more structure and less choice, but it’s still reassuring to hear your thoughts to know I’m not alone.

  5. I shared this blog post with my fourth grade students because it touched my heart. I asked the students to read the post and write about their thoughts.

    How does this make you feel? Do you agree or disagree?

    Dean:
    Yes, finally somebody actually understand that kids do not like to keep track of their reading goals nor have a reading log.
    What they want to do is just read, to get stuck in a book and let them climb into a world of imagination. Where they see fun things and dramatic things. Now I do realize that teachers have to have their students grow as a reader but do they want to stop and write a summery of a chapter.No.
    What I’m thinking is a fun way to keep track of their reading. Right now I do not think civilization has not came up with a solution like this but we could figure out a way to do this ourselves.

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