being a student, books, new year, Reading, Reading Identity

Before We Hand Them a Book

I’ve been thinking about the hurry. The rush to get into habits. To get kids reading. To get kids writing. To not waste a moment of instructional time so that we can get to the real work. I see it surround us, this pressure to get moving, to get going as quickly as we can so we don’t lose time. So we don’t miss our chance for cramming as much as we can into a year. After all, we only get them for so long and the tests will tell us whether we did enough.

It plays out a lot when we meet kids who don’t like reading. Who either proclaim it loudly, or whose behaviors clue us in. The aimless browsing, the grab-and-go when it comes to book selection. The kids who go with the motions at times but you can tell that the book they are currently reading is not one that is going to make it home. Who look at us wide-eyed or with a grin when we tell they we hope they will read over the weekend.

We rush them with book recommendations. Have you tried this one or this one? We tell them they just haven’t found the right book yet and then we hand them a stack hoping that in that stack will be that right book. You won’t know until you start reading, so read.

And I get it, I do it too, after all, the year looms and we have so much work to do. Yet, to quote Taylor Swift, I feel we need to calm down. To take these moments, these aimless wanderings, these negative reading relationships, and ask more questions. Sit in silence and let kids think. If a child can’t answer why they hate reading beyond that they just do, then they haven’t been given an opportunity to fully think about their relationship with reading. They haven’t been given a moment to recognize that their path with reading has been filled with choices, both their own and others, that have now brought them to this point in time where they feel that they are not readers. That reading has no value. That reading is not something they need. Nor something they feel they can do.

So when we hand them another book without conversation beyond “What types of books do you like?” Without seeing the child and giving them a chance to reflect, we are not changing habits long-term. We are not changing lives long-term. Sure, they may love that book – hooray – but what happens when the book is done? Have they really changed their relationship with reading or was it just a fluke?

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So before we rush to our piles of recommended books, we slow down. Yes, we surround them with incredible books, people who love to read, we give them time to read, we give them the space to read, the air to read, and then we talk. (This should be a right not a privilege of all kids). We reflect. We give kids the opportunity, the expectations, to know themselves as readers so that we, the adults that surround them, can invest in long-term change.

I am not teaching kids to just like reading this year. I am trying to teach kids to find value, inherent value, in the act of reading itself. While books and texts are the tools, the real work starts with the recongition of one’s own journey and subsequent relationship to reading and how it impacts the child that stands before us.

It takes time. It takes patience. It takes careful planning. And it takes us realizing that being a reader is not just something we want kids to experience in the brief time they are with us, but instead be a part of their being that exists without us after the year is over. That doesn’t just start with a book. That book needs to be wrapped up in reflection, in time, and in conversation. Then changes may happen.

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.

2 thoughts on “Before We Hand Them a Book”

  1. Sorry this reply is a bit long, but I’ve been thinking about this post a lot since I read it yesterday. My main thought is that it isn’t bad to get them started reading early on or even right away, but that while we get started with that, there has to be plenty of reflection and conversation to go along with it. In the past, I always conferred with students about how they liked the books they were reading, but after their initial surveys, the first time I formally checked in about how they felt about reading itself wasn’t until the end of second quarter. Many of them would say they liked the book they were reading, but it wasn’t doing anything to change their view of reading itself. Still, I just hoped that all the books they chose and the time they spent reading would change things for them. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that if we can just get the “right” book(s) into each kid’s hands, that will change everything because it does work like that for some kids. However, that does not work for nearly everyone.

    For the past several years I’ve put together preview stacks for each student based on their surveys (à la Donalyn), and I was always in a rush to get those done. I would start them during week two and for some reason felt like I had to finish them all by the end of the week. That made the week pretty stressful because I was getting so many of them ready each day. The bigger problem, though, which your post especially brought to light for me, is that I didn’t have time to really talk to each student because there were too many of them getting stacks in the same day. This year, I waited a bit longer to start them and committed to doing fewer each day. While I did this for other reasons, the biggest benefit is that this is letting me actually spend time talking to each student as they look through the stack. We’re not just talking about the books themselves, though. I’m also bringing along their reading surveys so we can talk about their responses, especially their feelings about reading. If we run out of time to finish talking, I’m waiting to create new stacks so that I can first finish listening to the students from the day before. I’m figuring out how best to navigate these conversations as I go because I’ve never had them one-on-one this early in the year before, but I’m thankful for the chance to slow things down and listen while also setting the stage for the ongoing conversations we’ll have throughout the year.

    Thanks for continuing to help me reflect.

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