The Secret to Being a Better Reader

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So this year in Room 128 I have decided to try something radical and unconventional in today’s classroom (at least in secondary classrooms): I’m going to let my students read – for pleasure – daily. Reading in English? Every single day?  ̶B̶u̶t̶ ̶h̶o̶w̶ ̶w̶i̶l̶l̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶p̶r̶e̶p̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶m̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶t̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶i̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶y̶’̶r̶e̶ ̶r̶e̶a̶d̶i̶n̶g̶?̶  But how will they learn all of the content of American or British literature is they are reading John Greene (note – American author) or Nicholas Sparks (note – American author) or J K Rowling (note – British author)? How can I possibly justify carving time out of every class period to read for fun? 

Here’s how this works. Students come in and the first thing we (because I read with them) do is put up phones and read for approximately 15 minutes. Let’s round down (like I do on the scale) and say students only have 12 minutes of reading time each day; that’s one hour of reading each week. The far majority of students don’t read outside of school at all so I consider one hour a week of reading a victory. How many of you read an hour each week? (Reality check). After the fifteen minutes when it’s time for the “real work” to begin, students often moan and groan because they don’t want to stop reading. Did you get that; they don’t want to stop reading! Did I mention these are not my AP students; these are my lower level classes – the self-proclaimed non-readers – and you can hear a pin drop in my room every day as students are caught up in a novel.

Why are students intently reading during free reading time when they are reluctant readers otherwise? First – they have a choice. Don’t we all like to have a choice in life as opposed to just told what to do? I am committed to getting the right book into students hands and hearts. To make this happen we speed date books (check out the special Valentine’s Day twist on speed dating below), have our media center specialists give book talks a couple of times a month, and keep books displayed and accessible in Room 128, so students are surrounded by lots and lots of different types of books. Second – no book is off limit for students. Young adult, great. Graphic novels, fantastic. One student could not think of anything he wanted to read about but later told me that he has three pet snakes. When I suggested an informational book on snakes, he was so excited and has been reading about snakes for the last couple of weeks. I think it’s a little weird, but he’s reading – success!! Third – students don’t have to take a test on the book. I would be miserable if I knew that every book I read for pleasure would be followed with a test; it would totally take a lot of the pleasure out of my pleasure reading. As my friend Brian Sztabnik says, “I don’t read a book then run to Hobby Lobby and make a poster about it.” Point taken. If students aren’t sleeping, on their phone, staring into space, or building pyramids out of Reese’s cups (this list will continue to grow), and are actively reading, they get a 100% for their reading grade that week. Hoorah for 100s!!!

So what about learning? The way to become a better reader is by reading; there are no shortcuts. The majority of students in my classes of any level will never read a book at home, but they are practicing independent reading in my class for at least one hour a week and therefore making gains in their reading skills. What’s just as important to me is that students are learning to love reading because my goal is for students to be lifelong learners. At the school’s open house, parent after parent told me they had never known their student to read for pleasure but were seeing their student bring brooks home, reading on the weekend, or sharing about a book they were reading at school. This further confirmed to me that reading a book of choice was working.

How can you foster a reader at home? Apply the same principles:

Let your kid choose what to read. 

Expose students to a wide variety of books. 

Help students find the right book. Ask a teacher or librarian if you need help.

Reward kids for reading. You can’t give 100s, but you can go to Chick-Fil-A or Starbucks.

Set aside time for reading. It doesn’t have to be a large chunk of time but does need to be technology free.

What is one step you can take this week to encourage reading with the next generation?

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4 responses to “The Secret to Being a Better Reader

  1. I do this in all my classes as well. My seniors say that they like reading again. They also pick books that are much more difficult than I thought they would (in some cases) and more difficult than I would assign. It’s tough to argue against a system that encourages students to pick up Invisible Man and Crime and Punishment on their own.

  2. Love this idea. I teach 9th graders AND AP LAng & Comp. I think I’ll try this with 9th every day and Lang somehow. The Lang class is every other day and skinny Friday. So, I’ll have to be creative. Do you mind sharing your speed dating idea for the books?

  3. Pingback: An English Teacher’s Reading Life: Summer 2017 | Teach with Class·

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