It has been a summer of easy reading so far. A few YA books, a graphic novel when the book I was reading hit a boring spot, picture books every day. My professional development books beckon, but my brain is not ready. I need to read to read. To relax – summer has been crazy so far – to laugh, to discover new books that I can pass on to others. To not think too much, I need easy books.; books that remind me why I love reading so much.
I was asked on Friday; what about the kids who read books that are much too easy, how will we challenge them? The problem was implied; easy books don’t offer up real growth opportunities. Easy books don’t develop their skills. Easy books don’t push them forward in the ever-present journey toward becoming a better reader.
But it seems as if, in our well-meaning intentions, that we have forgotten what a better reader really is. A better reader is not just someone who can just tackle complex texts, who can comprehend at a deep level, who can answer the questions on the test to back up what we already knew. While those are aspects, they are not the only thing that makes a child a better reader.
A better reader is someone who sees reading as valuable. Who recognizes the need to read because they will feel less than if they don’t. Who sees reading as a necessity to learning, for themselves and not just for others. Who sees reading as a journey to be on, something worth investing in. And so I wonder; when we tell children not to read easy books, how much of that individual reading identity journey do we dismiss?
Easy books, whether they be graphic novels, books below their actual comprehension skills, free verse, audio books, or even picture books, can get such a bad reputation in our schools. As if those books are only allowed in the brief moment of time when they fit your exact level, whatever level means. As if those books are only meant to be discovered when you have nothing else to read, when you actually are allowed to read for fun, rather than for skill. Yet these are the books that keep us loving reading. That keeps us coming back. Those books that we devour in one sitting because we must find out what happens next, aren’t those “easy” books for all of us?
Do we tell our students to embrace easy reading whenever they want to keep them loving reading? Or do we push them so hard to develop their skills that their connection to reading breaks and then we wonder why reading becomes something just to do for school and tasks?
And yes, I teach that child that reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid every day, who is not sure of what else he can read that will make him love reading as much. My job is not to tell him, “No, you cannot read that,” but instead to show him other options. Not to take away, but to recommend, while also protecting the fierce commitment that exists between a child and a favorite book. To explore why that child loves this book so much and then help discover others like it. To acknowledge the reading relationship that already exists and to build on that rather than breaking it apart at all costs because I know better.
I am not dismissing the need to challenge kids to read more, to read longer, to read more complex text, but we must be careful with what we then say when it comes to what else they should read. We must make reading for enjoyment, whatever that means for a child, a central part of our teaching so that children can understand that reading for enjoyment is just as, if not more, important than reading for a skill. And the research agrees. Kamil (2003) points out, “Motivation and engagement are critical for adolescent readers. If students are not motivated to read, research shows that they will simply not benefit from reading instruction.” So are we making room to embrace those books that happen to make our children, and adults, love reading? Or do we only focus on those texts that will continue to challenge them, to move their skills, unfocused on the other damage it may do?
While our job, as educators, is to develop children who can read, our job is also to develop children who want to read. The two are not always taught together, so it is up to us, to make sure that when we plan for our reading experiences that “easy” books and anything else that may keep a child’s love of reading intact is not only welcomed but encouraged in our classrooms. We must ensure that when we plan for reading instruction, that we plan for the protection of the love of reading.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017. This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block. 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.