A question I receive often is what do you teach? Meaning what reading skills do I get to explore with my 7th graders in our English block? And how do I cover it all? I get it, teaching English Language Arts in the forty-five-minute block is daunting. We feel like we are behind on the second day of school. (Incidentally, this is what prompted me to write Passionate Readers because I figured I could not be alone in trying to deal with the madness). And yet, while I gladly share what we do as I try to help my students become better readers, there seems to be a missing part in this curriculum conversation; the need to plan for reading enjoyment.
Why does this matter? Because our assumptions about what we can do to kids’ reading lives through our well-meaning intentions are wrong. We have assumed for too long that kids will just like reading, no matter what we do to them in class. No matter the task we assign them. No matter how we teach and what we discuss. And yet, the numbers don’t lie… As kids get older, reading for fun decreases and with it outside reading. We all know where this goes, by the time kids leave our classrooms and become the adults we have hoped to shape, many of them; 26% to be exact, choose to not read a single book for the next twelve months. And we know this, we see it in our classrooms every single year; those kids that come in and sigh, that pick up a random book, that look us in the eyes and tell us proudly that they will never like reading no matter what we do. It seems, in our eagerness to create amazing readers, we have lost sight of the end game; people who actually want to read once they leave our schools.
The decisions we make today, as we plan for the year ahead, or for the next day’s lesson, matters more than we know. Yes, kids need reading skills, of course, but we also must plan specifically for protecting the hope of reading. For protecting the positive reading identities that are already present in our school communities, for investigating and hopefully changing the negative reading identities.
But this won’t happen just by happenstance. Joyful reading experiences don’t just happen magically even if we provide choice, time, and plenty of great books. We must strive to make it fun. To create meaningful opportunities to interact with others through the books we read. To abandon the books that do not work for us, even the ones we rank a seven or an eight. To read picture books aloud not just for teaching the skill but for creating a community, for laughing together. For speaking books with one another. For reading aloud. For finding time to slow down so we can savor what we read, rather than just to get through it.
And don’t take my word for it, here is just some of the research of the benefits of focusing on reading enjoyment from The National Literacy Trust.
We may lament the amount of time we have in our classrooms. We may worry that we will never get “it” done. That we are not enough or that what we are doing is not the right thing. But we must not forget how much we do control in our limited time with students; how many decisions we do get to make. One of those has to be what we are going to do to protect the love of reading. How will we make reading fun again and then stand proudly behind our decisions? So next time you plan a lesson or have a curriculum discussion, ask yourself this; will there be enjoyment in this? Will the very students we are teaching find this fun? And if not, why not? What can you do to change? Our classrooms were never meant to be the place where reading came to die, they were meant to be places filled with reading explorations. What will we do to change the very experience we have with our students?
Our classrooms were never meant to be the place where reading came to die, they were meant to be places filled with reading explorations. What will we do to change the very experience we have with our students?
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.