A couple of years ago I asked my students to tell me why reading was amazing. When Jack whispered to Michael that “Reading sucks…” the rest, they say, is history. Inspired by Jack’s words of truth, I have asked students for years now to tell me their reading truths and not hold back. I cannot be the kind of teacher I would like to be if I don’t get to know them. The real them. Not the school-primed, sanitized version. Not the kid that knows how to play the game. Not the kid that says whatever they think we want to hear so they start off on a good foot.
So on the third day of school this year, I told the story of Jack. Of how I had been doing that lesson where I talk about the magic of reading. How he had dared to whisper those words. Some of the students laughed, they remember the lesson I was referring to, as they have also head about how amazing reading is for years. And then they got quiet as I asked them so when is reading not magical? And when is it?
I wrote in big bold letters “Reading is magical” and then asked them what to write on the other side. “Reading is trash!” they said as they chuckled, not quite sure, I am sure, of what to make of all of this.
They grabbed as many post-its as they could and then started to write their reasons. Please tell me when reading is amazing. Please tell me when reading is trash. Tape your post-its to the board so they stay up. Sign your name if you want. And then step back, read the post-its. What do you notice?
Over and over their words joined together to form the same patterns I see year after year. The same things I have done to kids through the years. The same things many of us educators are told to do every year by well-meaning administrators who are led by an expert curriculum that someone told them to purchase to raise test scores.
Too much writing!
Their words glared at us.
But wait? When is reading magical? Again a pattern that we all know.
When I find the right book!
When I am given time to read!
When I find a great series or author!
When it is quiet!
When I am allowed to just read!
Their words have carried us into our beginning reading conversations, into our analysis, into our very community. They have guided us as we start to figure out where reading fits into our lives and whether we can protect or promote a strong and personal relationship with reading. They have guided us as they have mentioned the amazing experiences they have had with their previous teachers, and the ones they wish that had not had.
We fret so much over what curriculum we should use, how we should teach, and how we should grade, yet sometimes the biggest impact we can have with kids is simply when we stop and ask them for their truths. Do you know what your students would say?
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.