I was taught in college that to be a teacher reading role model, I should read infront of my students; not just read aloud, but actually sit down and read in front of them so they could see how much reading meant to me. So when I embraced independent reading, I did just that; pulled my own book out and read diligently next to them. It didn’t matter that I was not reading books they could actually read, but instead that they saw me in the physical act of reading. Yet, something felt inherently wrong. I was distracted by my own book at times, not picking up on what kids were actually doing. I didn’t feel like I was actually teaching them anything during that time, and, most importantly; very few of my students actually saw me as a reading role model, which baffled me for a long time. It turns out that simply seeing someone read does not make them a reading role model and so I knew I had to change my ways.
It turns out, though, that I was not the only one that was taught this method of teacher-as-reading-role-model; when the kids read, you read right alongside them. I was reminded of this just the other day when a brand new teacher told me that when her kids were reading so was she. I immediately thought, “What a waste of time,” but then also realized why this seems like a great idea on the surface. After all, we know that kids will read more when they see others reading, we know that adults as reading role models are a powerful tool, and it also legitimizes independent reading time; “See how important this is by me doing it as well…”
And yet; we need that independent reading time to meet with kids. To confer when we can. To do reading check-ins with as many kids as possible to further enhance our own instruction. To build relationships and community. To truly understand the learners that are in our care. Not to work on our own reading. So how do we establish ourselves as reading role models without physically reading in front of the kids?
We give it time. The first step is to make sure there is time for independent reading. After all, if we value something then we must give it the thing we have the least of; our time. So every day we should find the time for self-selected choice independent reading for all of our students, no matter their needs and abilities.
We read aloud. At all ages and whenever we can. Kids will understand the importance of shared book experiences by actually participating in them and so we must model what it means to be a fluent read-alouder, what it means to be carried away in a text, to be emotionally connected to a piece of literature. We do this by reading aloud stories, poems, and other pieces that move us and then invite students into the experience.
We speak reading. My students know a lot about my reading life because I speak about it often. I book talk books I just finished or abandoned, I talk about the latest book I cannot wait to read. I talk about how I sneak books with me everywhere, how I trained myself to read in the car without getting sick so it would give me more reading time. We speak books and how they matter whenever we can, not just on the days it is our teaching point.
We showcase our reading. Outside of our classroom, I have a display of all of the books I have read so far. My students know my reading goal and see the poster fill up as the year progresses. My students can see that I spend time reading outside of class because they see the covers get added. The visual representation is also a constant reminder as they enter our classroom that in here the books we read is something to be proud of, not something to be ashamed of.
We procure more books. The first thing most people notice when they enter our classroom is the sheer amount of books. The collection and its placements speaks to the importance of reading in our community. Having books front and center means that reading is front and center.
We sometimes read with them. If I cannot wait to finish a book, if the classroom is particularly still, or sometimes just because it is Friday, I will sit down and read with my students. Not because I have to but because I want to. It is not every week, we have much too little teaching time for that, but once in a while, they might see me reading, that is if they actually look up from the pages of their own book.
Being a reading role-model is something I take quite seriously, as do many of my colleagues. Our schools speaks books because we feel the urgency with which we lose our middle schooler’s interest in reading every year. So every minute matters, every minute counts, and while reading in front of my students would be lovely, that is not my main job in the classroom as they read. Speaking to them is. How have you become a reading role model in your classroom?
If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like to infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released. I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.