Friday, October 19, 2018

Voracious Readers

I've always worked with kids who have a lot of barriers around school in general and reading in particular. Sometimes it's language--13 years teaching ESL means I worked with plenty of kids who were fluent in Spanish, conversant in English, but really challenged by the literacy demands of grade level English classes. Other times it's a host of personal issues, from high mobility to frequent absences to ADHD to trauma in the home that makes it hard to give a rip about what's going on in the classroom.

I work hard to reconnect my students to the power of story. I have expanded my idea of what "real" reading is year by year, and now I push graphic novels, audiobooks, comic books, re-reading books, and reading online. If a kid re-reads Diary of a Wimpy Kid over and over, I let them, because re-reading is a great way to refine and build skills. I read aloud, I embrace students' right to abandon books, I bring in books that are way below and way above my students' age level, and I booktalk constantly. I'm able to get most kids to read SOMETHING, and most kids end the year reading more books than they ever have before. I treasure the times students tell me they stayed up late reading, or ask me for the next book in a series, or groan when I announce the end of reading time.

from Urban Threads

This year, there's been something different going on. Teachers were asked to offer electives in addition to our usual assignment, and while I ended up teaching an independent project elective, a number of kids had signed up for a free reading elective as well. So in each of my reading workshop classes, I have 3-6 kids (out of about 25) who are there because they signed up for that elective. This means that for the first time, I have students in my classes who LOVE TO READ.

It's amazing.

Seriously, I love all my students and I love what I do, but these kids who read constantly are just so dang easy to relate to. There's C., who sped through The Leaving so I could read it next, and wanted to talk with me about what made it so suspenseful. There's K., who asked me to point her to as many GLBQT themed books as I could. There's H. and L., who pass books back and forth between themselves constantly, J. who's reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A., who's reading Shogun, and M., who plows through fantasy series without even coming up for air. Two girls in my independent project elective were struggling with how to fill class time, as their projects are things they are mostly working on at home--so they decided to have a two person reading contest, with the person who reads the most pages in a month getting to pick a book for the other student to buy her.

I pull a book for a student, and they say, "Oh yeah, I loved that one." So points for me for knowing their taste, but I've rarely had students who had already independently read, well, anything.

I brought in the newest Carl Hiasaan book, Squirm and a kid gasped. GASPED. "I didn't know he had a new book out! Can I borrow it, please, please, please?"

I still have kids re-reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the Amulet series, and that is okay. But I also have students reading They Both Die at the End, Every Day, No Choirboy, Graceling, Unwind, The Hate U Give, Ball Don't LieScythe, and Code Name Verity. The books I love are getting checked out, talked about, and passed around. When we go around the room and share what books we're reading and how we like them, so many kids are rating their books 4 or 5 (because Goodreads trained me to use a five point rating scale for books!), which makes my reader's heart happy. It also serves as a great example for my less confident and enthusiastic readers. If your book isn't keeping you engaged, then get a new book, because BOOKS ARE AWESOME, and READING SHOULD BE ENJOYABLE.

A lot of book blog readers were probably kids like that when we were young, but I know some came to the love of reading late. Book fans are my people, but the fact that some of you didn't love reading when you were young actually gives me great hope that I can help some kids make that switch. These eager readers don't actually need much from me. They offer me the joy of a shared love of reading, and they elevate the mood and tempo of my classes. My calling is turning non-readers into readers, but it sure is fun to meet students who already fully identify as readers.

When did you really start to identify as a reader? What books, authors, genres, or experiences shaped that?


  1. I’ve been all of those kids! I’d do anything to avoid reading when I was really young. I started to enjoy reading when I discovered Stephen King in fifth grade. In seventh grade, I was moved from “special” classes to normal classes. That’s when I became a bookworm and started reading EVERYTHING. I’m glad you have some readers in your class. They probably appreciate that you have a well-stocked classroom library.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. I couldn't even imagine being in a room full of kids that are excited to be there and excited about what they are doing. The closest I got in my 12 years was with an honors class I got to teach, but there were still many there going through the motions. How awesome that your district lets you have such a class, and wow! They are reading some really weighty stuff (Shogun, Cuckoo's Nest). What a gift for you and the students.

  3. Your story is giving me so much hope for the world. Thank you for your work. You are helping so many.

  4. This is so utterly wonderful! It's nice that you have such an array of students so that you can encourage the ones who need it and gush about books with the ones who are already readers. :-)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


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