Thursday, March 15, 2012

Be Intentional

Take a few minutes and think of your best and worst memories of reading. 
Keep these memories in mind, we’re going to need them in a few paragraphs!

It’s hard for me to pinpoint my most favorite reading memory because, lucky for me, I have great experiences with reading. One comes vividly to mind right now though. When I was in 6th grade, I remember asking my teacher to recommend a book for me to read. She walked over to her teacher desk and handed me The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. I don’t remember her exact words, but the gist was that it was a challenging book but that she thought I was a strong enough reader to read it.

 I loved that book. It’s a great story of adventure and suspense but part of my love for that book was the teacher’s message. She thought I was worthy of the book. To kids, what a teacher or other adult mentor tells them about themselves matters. Some kids might pretend it doesn’t matter, but, frankly, in the deepest part of their heart it does. Kids want and need our support. They need someone to believe in them and encourage them. She boosted my self-esteem that day when she gave me that particular book and said it might be a challenge but that I was up to it.

My worst reading memory is of reading The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce in my junior year high school English class. My close-to-retirement teacher would stand at the front of the class behind her podium and lead discussions about the reading from the night before. I can vividly remember the bright red lipstick that lined her lips and the way she would nudge her glasses onto her face when they started to slip down her nose. How she would switch her weight from one foot to the other as she talked. I read, I listened, I tried to participate, I wrote papers. I also despised The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. How did this teacher help and support me and my reading? Did she value me as a student by making me, a 16-year-old girl in 1997, read a rambling, horribly dry book about an Irish dude that was first published in 1916? Did she ever step away from her podium and learn about who I was, what I might like to read, what I really needed as a reader? Did she even see me as a person? An individual?

In both of my memories, teachers are prevalent. There are many experiences in and out of school that shape who we are as readers, but it’s undeniable that teachers are pivotal in helping children develop as readers and can make a deep and lasting impact on students.

I would love for you to share your best and worst memories of reading with me! I’m curious how much other people – teachers or not – play a role in these memories. When we look at what makes a reading memory stand out as great versus one that stands out as horrible, what do we notice?

In mine, I recognize the power of words and actions. My 6th grader teacher knew me, knew me as a reader, and knew a book I might connect with that would challenge me. And she believed in me when she gave me that book that day. My junior year English teacher didn’t know me, didn’t value me as a reader to let me (or anyone else in my class) read what we wanted to read, didn’t help give me what I needed at my level to understand the book.

My purpose for writing this is to ask you to also look closely at how you interact with kids everyday. If you are a teacher, does your teaching and interaction with readers show them that you value them personally? Does it show them that you believe in them? Does it show them that you love books and you want them to, too?

If we ever hold students back from reading:
telling them it’s “not at their level”
or it’s not part of a system that is in place
or that there isn’t a comprehension quiz for that particular book
or that reading poetry only counts as half a book on a reading log
or that they can only read that book during a rare “free reading week”
aren’t we also sending the message that we don’t believe in books or in them as readers?

We don’t trust them to choose a just right book.
We don’t value books that aren’t part of the system.
We don’t believe they have actually read it if they can’t answer questions on a quiz.
We don’t respect poetry or novels in verse.
We don’t care about their interests.
We don't understand what it means to be a real-life reader.
We don’t believe in books or in them as readers.

I hope no one in education intentionally wants to send this message to students but we do need to reflect on our actions to make sure we don’t unintentionally send this message to them. Let kids read what they want to read, get to know them, talk with them about what they are reading, make recommendations based on what you know about them, challenge them to read great books, empower kids to be the best readers they can. Show them we believe in books and we believe in them as readers!

('s one way to show kids we believe in them as readers! They can vote for the books they want to win the Children's Choice Book Awards in May! Click here to vote!)

1 comment:

  1. Saying "I love this post" would be such an understatement! Thank you for saying what NEEDS to be said.


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