post by Elisa Waingort, 2018-19 Associate of The Educator Collaborative
All Readers Have The Right To Read Whatever They Want
That should be the end of my blog post.
There is nothing more to say.
As an avid social media user, I have been reading tweets and posts on FB about the importance of letting kids make choices as to what they want to read. Although this is not a new idea for me, I am glad that this conversation has resurfaced, because it provides multiple opportunities for all of us to clarify our thinking on this issue. Sometimes, we get too comfortable in our practice; it’s important to have robust philosophical and practical debates every once in a while.
The why of what we do is as important, maybe more, as the what. During those times when you’re just feeling a little uncomfortable about what a child is reading, or when a parent or another adult in the school questions a child’s reading choices, remember why you are allowing student choice in the first place. Having a say in what students read says: “I trust you to make choices that work for you.” Students having a say in what they read allows them to develop a reading identity. Unless students know themselves as readers by choosing books that resonate with them, they will never become comfortable with reading or with books. Furthermore, choice is an intrinsic motivator; it allows students to exercise their voice and take ownership of their learning.
Having said all that…as a reader myself, I know that it’s valuable to read broadly across genres, formats and authors. I tend to gravitate towards novels and professional reading. Still, I think it’s important to challenge myself as a reader. Therefore, I encourage students to move out of their comfort zone. I know that doing so expands my sense of the world and I want my students to experience what this means for them. We don’t just want to create better readers; we want, and desperately need, to help our students become better people. Books provide one gateway to getting there. So when a student seems to be reading the same kind of book, I might encourage them to try something different. But I will never force a child who loves graphic novels, for example, to abandon them for another kind of book. Choice grows readers.
If we want to develop readers who love to read, then we need to create a classroom environment that honors both reading and readers. What follows are some suggestions to help you get there.
- Designate a chunk of your day for independent reading time. You may have to build up student stamina at first, but make sure that students know they will have protected, self-selected independent reading time every day. Don’t skip it or replace it with other tasks; otherwise, students will get the idea that independent reading time is something they get to do once in a while. This will not build stamina or strong readers.
- Get to know your students’ interests, likes and dislikes as well as their strengths so that you can recommend books that they might enjoy. It really only takes one book to hook a reader. Don’t concern yourself with lexile or guided reading levels. (This is probably an unpopular idea, but I can’t say it enough.) These are arbitrary constructs that don’t guarantee your students will engage with books or fall in love with reading. A better use of your time is to become familiar with the characteristics of different types of books so that you can match books to readers. For example, early chapter books provide picture support for students as they transition into reading stories with more characters and a more complex plot line.
- Make time for students to share what they’re reading with each other. Don’t attach a writing assignment to self-selected reading. There are other, more authentic, ways to assess students, such as through partner, small group and whole class conversations. Quick jots about books in preparation for discussions is one way to get a sense of what your students are comprehending as they read. Book talks are an effective way for students to recommend books to one another and to discover books they love.
- Accept and encourage students’ reading choices from day #1. Arrange to sit next to each child during the first couple of weeks of school so that you can get to know them as readers and learners. Don’t stop students from reading whatever they want to read. Hold back your judgement, as hard as that may be. Remind yourself that your students are reading and it doesn’t matter if it’s a magazine or a thick novel. As you and your students share books with each other, student tastes and choices will change and expand during the school year. If we censor student choice, and this includes books that you think are too easy or too hard for them, they will become resistant rather than avid readers.
- If you don’t find any of these ideas convincing or helpful, then ask yourself this:
When was the last time someone told you what to read for pleasure?
Probably in school. As an adult, you select your own reading. You may heed recommendations from friends, but ultimately you are the boss of your own reading life. We need to let our students be the boss of their own reading lives as well.