Be the change, building community, community, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity

A Few More Steps Toward a Successful Reading Experience for All

Voting ends for the Global Read Aloud 2019 in two days. In two days, they will be tallied, I will sit and ponder, feel the gravity of the decision and finally, at some point, make it official. The weight of it is sometimes paralyzing. After all, I am not just selecting a book to read aloud to my own students, but making the largest recommendation to the world as I can. Holding titles, and with them the creators behind the work, and telling the world that these experiences are worth every moment of their time.

It is not much different, in a way, from the way we hold books up in our classrooms day after day. How we share our opinions on social media. How we give our blessings any way we can. The weight it carries is the same; we shape our students’, our children’s, our own reading lives by the choices we make. By the texts we give our time to, by the texts we don’t. We tell the world what we value within every choice, within every recommendation, within every ounce of time we give something. By ever instructional minute we offer up in order to dive in, dig in, tease out.

So when I am asked how to help someone like reading more, I keep coming back to the choices we make. The finite amount of time we have for any kind of influence. How it is impossible for me to change someone’s feelings about reading, but what I can do is provide them with an opportunity to change them themselves. So where does the work begin for us because, as we know from so many of our readers, it is not enough to simply find a book that may change their mind, even if that is where the journey may start.

Think of your environment. What are kids surrounded by as you promote reading? Is it books (I hope)? Is it comfort? Is it calm? Is it safe? Reading carries a lot of emotions and so for a child to immerse themselves in a text they need different things. Some need slight noise, others need absolute quiet. Some need to feel safe because reading does not feel safe for them, in fact, for some being surrounded by books just feels overwhelming rather than good. Some need a friend, some need a corner. Knowing how kids feel within our environment is key to helping them adapt to it in order to create a successful reading experience.

Consider asking: Where do you read best? What do you need to feel comfortable so you can focus on a book?

Think of your requirements. What are kids expected to do once they are reading? What are they expected to do while reading? So often, it is not the act of reading itself that kids want to stay clear from, it is all of the work that they have to do with it. Also, how are readers being limited? What may seem as no big deal to us, such as telling kids they can only select books that are over 100 pages or they can’t read children’s book if they are older, may be the exact obstacle that stands in the way of a reader.

Consider asking: What makes you want to stop reading? What obstacles need to be removed in order for you to have a better reading experience?

Think of your community. Do you speak books? Does your classroom or school community? When we speak book we speak in shared experiences such as read alouds or book clubs, we pass books and other texts from hand to hand, we share recommendations not because we are forced to but because we want to. We find as many people to speak books to, including all of the other adults in the building, and then we try to come up with ways to include those outside of our school community to speak books with us as well.

Consider asking: Who do you speak books with? Who are your book people?

Think of your emotional investment. We have to recognize that for some reading is a reminder of everything they have failed at, that unless we protect the hope of being readers in all kids, then we may be inflicting additional negativity when it comes to the reading experiences we create. Trust and honesty then are pillars of a functioning reading community, and that includes kids who identify as kids who hate reading to still have a space within our community. So how are all readers handled? Are their identities honored and given space to change and grow. Are the small steps toward a mores successful experience being honored or only the big ones?

Consider asking: Who are you as a reader and how do you know?

Think of your reasons for reading. Are kids reading for points? For grades? To pass levels? To avoid punishment? Or are they reading because they find true value in it? Joy even? While extrinsic motivators certainly can cause a sense of urgency within a child to read, they are often short lived, and research shows again and again that the only rewards that truly change reading behaviors long term is to have more books and time to read. Not trinkets, grades, or achievement boards. Why do we then continue to gravitate toward extrinsic motivators? Because for some kids they do work in the short-term (and yes, short-term can be a whole school year), for some kids they seem to spark a change, yet, how often do those kids then stop reading the minute the program/reward/grades are removed? How many of the kids who were motivated to read to get a high score on the test are also motivated when there is no test to be taken? We do this a lot in education; implement short term solutions that do long-term damage. So instead of going for the “quick” fix, invest in the long-term building of a reading community, which yes may mean kids are slower to change their reading identities but it should mean a more meaningful long-term change is happening.

Consider asking: Why do you read? If programs are implemented ask: How do you feel about the program? Do you plan on reading over the summer – why or why not?

Think of your timeline. Just because a child is not liking reading more half-way through the year or even by the end of the year, does not mean it has all failed. It might just mean that it is going to take a lot more time. That is why continuation of shared reading beliefs is so important for kids and for the educational communities they are are in. If there is a foundational right to self-selected, teacher-supported, independent reading in the early years then that right should be carried through until graduation. It doesn’t help if we merely implement best practices for a few years and then forget all about them as children grow older. In fact, it is awfully hard to change reading behaviors and feelings all by yourself, and it often leads to an artificial change, one that is not sustained after they leave you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but it does mean that you should be involving your broader school community in the work as well.

Consider asking: What are the reading rights of children every year?

So often when we really want kids to love reading, we forget to dig deeper into all of the components that go into creating meaningful reading experiences. In fact, this goes for so much in education. We implement and support short-term solutions that do not really change the foundational experience as much as they should and then wonder why it doesn’t work for all kids. But the change can start within the very questions we ask and we reflect on. So much of what I have learned through the years have come from our students. Have come from our team conversations. Have come from our community. So while all students deserve choice, access, time, and meaningful reading opportunities, they also deserve a safe community with an ongoing dialogue about how else their reading experiences can be shaped. And that starts with us.

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