being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

I Don’t Read

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“I don’t read” has been a refrain heard loudly in our classroom for the last three weeks.  Several students have informed me that reading is not something they do.  Not something we can get them to do.  And they have been right.  For the past three weeks, these few kids have stood by their words, proven them to be true and we have pondered what the solution may be.

I bet those students are in your room as well.

So what have we done, when children loudly claim this identity of children who will not even pick up a book?  Who will not even open a book? Who will not even book shop?  Who will not even give it a try?

We start with what we have a lot of; patience.

I think of the kids who come to us declaring loudly how much they hate to read and how many negative reading experiences they must have had to get to that point.  How many times they must have felt defeated in the face of a book and now have found a way to protect themselves.  When you refuse it is much easier to not get hurt. When you refuse it is not to anger the teacher, but o shield yourself from more embarrassment, more harm, more hurt.  How every moment we do not force them to but instead offer them an opportunity for enticement is one more moment of negative counteracted by a moment of positive.  Of how we tread lightly, offering up multiple opportunities to read every single day, but never shaming, never demanding.

Instead treating their refusal as the gift that it is; a view into the minds of a child who feels like the act of reading is not something that is safe for them.

So we treat it with care.  With gentleness as we whisper our repeated question; how can we help?  And we offer them an array of enticing books, leave them at their fingertips and walk away.  Pop up books, picture books, graphic novels and other safe books placed within their reach with no judgment wrapped around them, but instead only an opportunity to try.

And we repeat that motion every day, reminding them that they should read but leaving it at that.  Pushing books toward them and holding ourselves back from rushing over there if they do, indeed pick one up to flip through the pages, instead allowing them time to sit in the moment with a book, and not a teacher that tells, “See, I told you they weren’t all bad.”

And we speak books with them.  Including them as a full-fledged reader in our classroom, sharing recommendations and not giving up despite their many shutdowns.  Despite their many refusals.  We invite them to book shop, to abandon books, to read books that matter to them even if they are not yet reading.  There is no punishment attached to not being a reader who reads actively in our room, why should there be?

And we repeat this every single day for as long as it takes.  And we smile, and we invite, and we try to help them feel safe.  To see reading as something that is not hurtful, but instead a moment of quiet in an otherwise overwhelming world of noise.

And every day as they declare that they do not read, we acknowledge their truth and then offer them a word of hope, “yet…they do not read yet.”  And that’s okay because we have a whole year to go.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.  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.



13 thoughts on “I Don’t Read”

  1. I know two grown men who, when I’ve asked them if they’ve read such and such, said, “I’ve never read a book.” They are missing so much. Teachers who instill a love for reading are the world’s greatest gift.

  2. Pernille-I think you are wonderful and I eagerly await your latest posts! As a teacher who works with struggling readers each and every day, I have always hoped you would acknowledge the different ways to fall in love with reading-most especially, for those kids we failed to identify who deal with decoding deficits every day that they are told to read. You reach so many people and I am hoping that if they hear it from you-so many of our students who “hate to read” might have the chance to fall deeply in love with the stories that will become part of them-all through “ear reading”. Listening to Audiobooks is reading and they need to be an alternative as we race to fill in those gaps and strengthen those deficits. Please think about this and that maybe what they are truly saying is “I hate reading because it is so hard and I still can’t do it”. We can change that for them! As teachers who love them-we need to! Thank you!
    Karen Formisano

  3. Wow. It was beautiful. You surely must a fabulous teacher. I wish I had one like you who could put so much efforts on reading. You remind us how Noble profession being a teacher is.
    Really appreciate your efforts!

    -Akhil from

  4. Thanks for the post and for both your books. Had the pleasure of hearing your speak last year at Write to Learn in Missouri. Will be using your advice for my after school students (retired so now those are my only students) Will definitely be telling folks about your wonderful idea. Happy Reading and Writing Dr. B. from St. Louis

  5. I love this way of approaching it. I winced a little at the part about not rushing in with glee because it is so hard for me. But I’m challenginging myself to become a better listener, which this is connected to. I often ask parents to “be the hero” at the end of the reading day if kids are resistant. We ask them to work hard at school (because teachers can ask different things from kids), so if they push back, be happy you get to have a little more read aloud time. Connect over stories when they are young, so they don’t disengage altogether as they grow up. Keep speaking out for those kids. Thank you.

  6. This is one of the best things I have read about teaching in my life. Wise. Kind. Important.
    PS I have read wildly about reading and reading workshop from its beginning. Lucky students. Lucky teachers with whom you share.

  7. I was moved to 5th grade three years ago and I was blessed with a group that were readers. I had a hard time keeping up with their requests and couldn’t recommend as much as I wanted to. Last year was more of a challenge with kids who COULD read but their interest wasn’t there. After reading Donalyn, and following Pernille I learned to be patient and wait. I gave them space and began to book talk and began to reach those non readers. This past spring I attended an appearance by Mr. Schu and was fired up—I smell new books now! After attending reading summits and Nerd Camp, my reading is now keeping pace with my new students who so far seem to be readers. #bookjunkie is my new handle and I can’t read, listen fast enough. My reading philosophy has changed dramatically, but my new goal is to now just get to that one kid that wasn’t a reader. I know he or she will be transformed by the end of this year and when that happens I’ll be happy!

  8. Pernille, I loved your book (and reviewed it on Middleweb!) but in reading your post, I’m thinking as a retired Reading, English teacher and principal how I’ve met kids who could wait you out the entire year–or more! In my first position of “Remedial Reading” with 35 non and low readers in a class X 5 classe with tons of worksheets left over from the previous person, I came across a James Moffat book that said kids are reading if you read to them AND THEY FOLLOW ALONG. That second part is so important, or they’re just listening and perhaps daydreaming. So, I bought 35 of The Outsiders and read to them. They couldn’t wait to get to class! That book saved my teaching job! Anyway, you could take one day a week and even read a short story to the entire class having them follow along. See if those kids that refuse to pick up a book do better on those days. Choose the short story carefully: “The Scarlet Ibis” and Ray Bradbury stories worked for me. Even O’Henry ones. Also, I found that to be “on stage” my low and even “non”-readers begged for Reader’s Theater. Provide props and it’s even better. I did a lot of reading games with them, too. Good luck to you. Teaching these kids is the biggest challenge in education and our special ed and higher grades are full of them.

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