“You’re in 8th grade, and that’s not an 8th-grade book.” I can picture myself in the library, looking at a student with a book in their hand, saying, “Choose something else.”
When I first started as a teacher, I had certain thoughts about what literacy instruction was supposed to be. About holding students to “high standards”. About how to push them to become better readers. I fear that in that push, I damaged their growing reading lives. That by inhibiting their choice, they read less then…and still read little now.
When I was in 8th grade, my teacher also tried to limit my choices. We kept a reading log, and when I turned mine in she told me I couldn’t read any more Sweet Valley books. I needed to challenge myself, and those books weren’t hard enough.
In her defense, I was in an honors program – and the books weren’t challenging for me, but I really enjoyed reading them. So, I did what I thought was best – I twisted the truth and kept on reading the books I wanted. The Sweet Valley series was written by many different authors. I just began listing the actual author and the title of the book (rather than including anything about the series). The teacher never figured it out (or at least never confronted me about my choices), and I was able to complete the log requirements with books I actually wanted to read.
I have since come to know myself as a person who likes predictability in books. I appreciate a formulaic series. I love to re-read.
I use this story now to tell students about my reading history. That it’s ok to read something that makes you feel comfortable. So that I remember what it felt like to have my choices put down, made to feel less by what I was reading. I assure them that my job as a teacher is to challenge them with their reading, but also to protect the space for what they choose to read.
This summer I’ve been slow to start my reading projects. I have at least 30 books in my various “to read” piles, but I couldn’t bring myself to pick up any of them. Me, a person who’s known to read two books in one day, the teacher that believes in a daily reading habit, hasn’t read a single page in 30 days.
Then yesterday I read THIS amazing blog post from Pernille Ripp about real reading, and it got me thinking about my own summer reading.
True, I haven’t picked up the books I thought I would – but I’ve been doing a TON of online reading. I prepared two presentations, where I researched online tools, synthesized the information, and presented it in a way that would easier for others to understand. If that’s not the authentic reading task I’m trying to prepare my students for, I’m not sure what is!
I’ve listened to a TON of podcasts. (Have you listened to Ear Hustle? It’s an incredible podcast about life in prison.) I’ve learned about history, keeping habits, meditation, making a podcast, new tech tools, and more.
And so, I gave myself a break. Just like I would give my students. I counted all of the reading I had already been doing, and let myself ease into my book pile with a comfortable book. I’m trying to let go of what I think I “should” be reading, and instead live by what I teach my students, “Are you going to actually read this? No? Then let’s pick something you’ll read.”
Do I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and do better for my students from 10 years ago? Yes. But now, I know better, and I will do better. And I encourage you all to do the same.
We need to be encouraging our students moving towards a reading life. Ebooks, audiobooks, graphic novels, magazines, online articles – even podcasts – count as reading for my students (and me too).
When I go back to school in August, I’ll be able to tell my students about all of the reading I did over the summer. Podcasts, online articles, magazines, and books included.