being a student, being a teacher, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice

When They Abandon Every Single Book

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“….well, I didn’t finish any books last year…”She turns to me and smiles.

“What do you mean?”  I ask, not sure I have heard her correctly, after all, I know what amazing work they do in 6th grade.

“….I just stopped reading them, I didn’t finish them.  I got bored…”

She puts the book down that she is abandoning and starts to look for a new one.

I love book abandonment.  It is something I preach should be a taught skill to all kids, a right even.  If you don’t like the book, don’t read it, it’s as simple as that when it comes to building a love of reading.  And yet, this year, we have been exposed to a new level of book abandonment.  A whole group of kids who never, according to their own recollection, finished a book of their own choosing last year.  Not one, not two kids, but many.  And they really don’t like reading.

Perhaps you have a group like this as well?

So how do you protect or create the joy of reading, when you really need students to experience a whole book from start to finish?

In conferring with many of my students, the obvious place to start is their book selection process.  When I ask them how they find their next read, many of them confess to only doing a few things, mainly look at the cover and then start it.  They haven’t taken the book for a test run, haven’t considered the length of the book, they don’t really know their likes and dislikes and so when the book turns out to be other than what they expected, they abandon it.

So reading identity is once again where we start.  How well do they know themselves as readers?  What do they like to read?  What is their reading rate?  What do they abandon?  Is there a pattern?  Are they aware of their own habits at all?  I start by interviewing them and taking notes, then I also have them reflect on themselves as readers and we track this information.  I also check in with them more, how are they doing with the book?  How are they liking it?

Book selection comes next.  What are their book shopping habits?  We refer to the lesson we did at the beginning of the year and help them book shop.  Who are their book people?  How do they find books to read?  What are their preferences?  What is on their to-be-read list already?  Thinking of all of this can help them with their next selection.

Track their abandonment.  While all students are expected to write down finished or abandoned titles, we are finding that many of our serial abandoners do not, so we will help them do that.  This is so they can start to see their own patterns; when did they abandon a book, why did they abandon it?  How far were they?  What type of book was it?  What strategies did they use before they abandoned it?   They will track this on this form.  This is only something we will do with these serial abandoners, not students who abandon a book once in a while.  What can they discover about themselves as they look at this information?  I also know that some of our serial book abandoners are not on our radar yet, so this survey will help us identify them so we can help.

Teach them stamina strategies.  Many of our students give up on books the minute they slow down or “get boring” as they would say.  They don’t see the need for slower parts to keep the story going.  They also, often, miss the nuances of these “slower” parts and don’t see the importance of them.  So a few stamina strategies we will teach are asking why the story is slowing down and paying attention to what they have just figured out about the characters.  Another is to skim the “boring” parts for now so they can get back to the story.  While this is a not a long-term solution, it does help keep them in the book and hopefully also helps them see that the book does pick up again.  They can also switch the way they interact with the text, perhaps they can read these sections aloud, or listen to an audio version for those parts.

Realize we are in this for the long haul.  Too often our gut reaction is to restrict.  To select books for the students to read no matter what.  To set up rules where they are not allowed to abandon the next book they select, and yet, I worry about the longevity of these solutions.  What are they really teaching?  So instead, we dedicate the time and patience it takes to truly change these habits.  We surround students with incredible books, we book talk recommendations, we give them time to read, and we give them our attention.  We continue to let them choose even if we are questioning their abilities to choose the correct book.  Becoming a reader who reads for pleasure, or who at least can get through a book and not hate it, does not always happen quickly.  We have to remember this as we try to help students fundamentally change their habits with books.  Restricting them in order to help them stick with a book can end up doing more damage than good as students don’t get to experience the incredible satisfaction of having selected a book and then actually finishing it.

I know that this year, I will once again be transformed as a teacher.  That these kids that I am lucky enough to teach will push me in ways I haven’t been pushed before.  My hope, what I really hope happens, is for every child to walk out of room 235d thinking; perhaps reading is not so bad after all.  Perhaps there are books in the world for me.  A small hope, but a necessary one.

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.

11 thoughts on “When They Abandon Every Single Book”

  1. This is such a great and insightful post. We teach our elementary school children how to pick a book that is “just right” in a way that will not restrict them based solely on level. It’s so important to foster a love of reading, and teaching them how to commit and enjoy a book from start to finish is the beginning.

  2. Hi Mrs. Ripp. I teach 3rd grade. I’m trying to foster a love of reading in all my students. I love reading myself so I know how important it is. I’m wondering: what do I do with my students that are barely learning to read (letter/sounds, sight words,etc), but want and are interested in reading books they can’t read yet like Harry Potter or Captain Underpants.

  3. I have a book club for fourth graders where more than once I’ve gotten feedback from parents that “This is the first time they finished a book.” Students picked as a group the titles they were most interested in from our state nominated list and I get them copies so they can read at home. Then we have a weekly meeting to talk about the book. For these kids maybe the peer interaction was motivating and kept them invested in the book.

  4. Like you, I had never experienced the number of students who abandoned books like I have this year. I have book talked, explored interests, even read the first chapter aloud to one student to see if it was a good fit. Nothing. I have been so bewildered and frustrated. This is usually something I enjoy doing with students! Thank you for pointing out reasonable questions to ask, and for noting that changing this habit will not happen overnight.

  5. As a retired elementary reading teacher who is blessed by time to work with a grandson with “reluctant reader syndrome” I am soaking in the words of your student centered post. It turned out that the gift of time and support fueled by teacher provided choice helped my 5th grader go from duty to joy in reading. It certainly is a wait-and-see time issue.

  6. Some kids are late bloomers. They could be more into comic books or graphic novels if they are visual learners, or could start reading previously assigned books years later when they are able to make the connection. It will continue to be a uphill battle for books when it has to vie for attention from the instant gratification of smartphone apps and games.

  7. Wow Pernille, how do you have the time to write such well thought through posts? I’m so glad I came across your blog. There were a few trigger words and phrases you mentioned that coincide with what we are currently studying at The Johns Hopkins School of Education. If you don’t mind I’ll reflect a bit.

    As it pertains to readers and how well they know themselves, the reference listed below outlines the theory and practice of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Its author, Meyers, states the three principles of UDL are multiple means of engagement, representation, action and expression.

    Let me explain in a real life example. When I was 5 years old my mom was insistent on me learning to play the piano. I struggled reading the sheet music and would lose interest by the time I was done playing a few measures. After two years of failure I was placed into an auditory based piano curriculum where the student will just listen to the song over and over again through headphones. I caught fire when I was finally given ways to learn that were optimized for my particular strengths and weaknesses (Meyer). I continued playing the piano for 14 years and to date I can still play most songs I learned as a child by memory. This same strategy was then applied to my schooling. Instead of reading books and poorly reporting on them, I would rent them at the library and my book reports would be 10 times more descriptive and comprehensive. It turns out, in this example, the major breakthrough in our overall approach was the realization that the curriculum, rather than the learner, was the problem.

    You have illustrated the same outcome in your post and have seen identical results. At times it’s the engagement and at times it’s the expression.

    Do you currently and always build in various means of technology or UDL type tools to assist with learning in the classroom?

    I noticed you’ve also inherently recognized what the same author Meyers calls “Expert Learners”. This is when a student begins to be able to navigate their way through their own learning by recognizing what means they prefer. Perhaps it’s text or video, maybe action or art. In your example the students chose their means by which book they liked the best. Imagine if students were able to decide what means of learning they prefer from lesson to lesson, not only would they be happier and less stressed but they would probably score higher and retain he information longer.

    I can still remember the words to Sesame Street and I haven’t watched an episode in 35 years. But I was being entertained while watching and those memories get sent to a special part in our brian that rarely forgets.

    Thank you for your reflection. I’ve enjoyed following you as of recent and will continue to learn and hopefully add value where I can.

    Thanks Pernille.

    References:
    Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014) Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. Retrieved from http://udltheorypractice.cast.org/reading?4&loc=intro.xml_l1969950

  8. Thanks, Pernille, for sharing the forms to track abandonment! I do have a couple of serial abandoners, and now I have a concrete way to help them.

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