90 minutes. This glorious amount of time awaits my students and me next year for our English classes. No more trying to cram everything into 45 minutes, no more rushing, no more skipping things. 90 whole minutes, and I cannot help but think of all we can become.
As I plan for these minutes, I realize that once again one of our central tenets will be the right to choose a book and to read it freely every single day. With no post-its, no jots, no interruptions. Just reading for the love of reading, every day, every child, no exceptions. Because if we listen to Louise Rosenblatt, and I don’t know why we shouldn’t, she reminded us back in 1978 that children need to be taught that there are two types of reading. Aesthetic reading which focuses on the love of reading, on living within texts so that we can create a relationship with the text. On being with the text so that we can see ourselves as readers. And also efferent reading, reading for skill, reading to work on reading. The things we do with what we read.
For many years, it appears that we have focused mostly on the later. The joy of reading has simply not been something we have made room for in our schools as we rush to utilize every single minute for instruction, for skill, for doing something. And we see the direct results now. The PEW Research Center reports that 24% of adults have not read a book in the last 12 months. Scholastic reminds us that fewer and fewer children read a book for fun every day. And we see it in our classrooms as students roll their eyes and tell us that books serve no purpose in their lives. We see it when teachers tell us that they simply don’t have time for students to read in class because they have too much to cover.
We have lost our way when it comes to one of the basic premises of what teaching reading is really all about; reading for the love of it. Reading to become a reader who reads without the threat of a grade or the promise of a reward.
We must do better than that.
And so next year, I will start once again with 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading time. 20 minutes where we simply work on loving reading. Where we work on falling into the pages of a book and then staying there. Nothing to do but read. Then a mini-lesson and then we shift focus to the skills of reading. There will be discussion, strategic lessons, small groups, and everything we love about the workshop model. Students will know that they are now working on a different skill than before because it is within this knowledge they can see the difference. They need to know there is a difference.
For too long we have lost too many kids in reading. They have turned away from books because books meant more work. More things to do. More interruptions. More accountability. And while we need students who can apply the skills of reading, we more so need kids who will like reading once they leave us. Who will not become a part of the 24% as we slide toward a more alliterate nation, a more alliterate world. And it starts with the very decisions that we make every single day. Where we look at the precious time we are given and get our priorities straight. It was never about just making sure kids could pass tests, it was always about them becoming more than what they started as. So we have to make room for both types of independent reading. The one where kids “just” read and the one where they work while they read. Otherwise, we will lose them.
It starts with the decisions we are making now as we reflect on the year ahead. Make room for both because we cannot do the work if we don’t. And if you don’t have the time, make the time. Ask yourself what are you doing with the time? how much time is lost simply in transitions? In bell work? In us teachers talking too much? If we say we want students to become readers then that starts in our classrooms, not when they go home.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child Also consider joining our book club study of it, kicking off June 17th. 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.