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During my early years as a classroom teacher I wanted every student to love to read as much as I did. I thought by sheer desire and passion, they would eagerly embrace the joy of reading. They would jump up and down with excitement when I assigned their reading homework.
Well, that didn’t work. They would rather watch TV. Reading was for school only.
I reflected on this attitude and decided to make reading prize-worthy! I set up a system where every time a student finished reading a book, I would punch a hole in their reading card. When the card was filled, they got to shop for a prize to celebrate. Well, you can imagine what happened. There were many accusations of cheating and students were spending more time figuring out how to beat the system than read.
Next, I decided to make it mandatory for every child to read every night for a set amount of minutes. I naively thought they would do it. Wrong! They all claimed to do it, but parents informed me they weren’t reading and it was a battle. Some students admitted that they didn’t read and their parents just signed the log anyway. Not a good way to foster a love of reading. Furthermore, I began to review what was happening in my own house.
At the same time I was attempting to grow passionate readers, my son was in elementary school and he had a nightly reading log. Although it pains me to share this, and although he has a reading specialist for a mother, he didn’t like to read. (His strength was math! Go figure!)
Each night we would sit together on the couch. I had my book to read as I wanted to model good reading habits and he would grudgingly hold his. Each time I looked over at him, he was asleep. I would nudge him awake and plead with him to finish his minutes. The teacher wanted the reading log signed by parents. When I asked him about why he didn’t enjoy reading, his response was, “I had to read all day at school. This is more work!”
All of these unsuccessful events led me to the conclusion that reading logs turn kids off from reading. Making parents sign a reading log to prove a child read for a certain amount of time makes them partners in turning kids off from the joy of reading. What is the solution? How do we share that reading is a life-changing, passionate, totally enriching experience?
It begins by talking. We must talk to children about their interests. I’m not a big science fan, so reading a book about it would be a chore I wouldn't want to do. My son’s passions were numbers and sports. I helped him choose books about these topics.
He worried that some of the books weren’t challenging enough, but I told him not to worry. All I cared about was that he was reading! (I met with his teacher at the time and explained that the journey began with baby-steps! She agreed with my plan.) Slowly, we found more and more books about sports and stories about math. Next, I encouraged him to read magazines and newspapers. Finally, I encouraged him to talk and talk and talk about what he read. I gave him permission to abandon books he didn’t like. This was a "novel" idea for him; he didn't have to like everything or finish everything.
At the same time, I was doing all of this in my classroom. I started listening to my students. I read what they were reading so I could share their experiences. I would get them talking about what they read. At first, they loved the attention and then, even the most reluctant reader, began to read just because of the joy it brought. I started greeting them by asking, “Did you find out what happened to the character? Did he make it across the river?” This generated excitement and connections. Reluctant readers saw the enthusiasm and conversations that I was having with other students, and they wanted to be included.
Admittedly, some students are slower to become passionate readers, but at least we no longer count minutes. Each night my students have homework and on their homework log it says, read for pleasure. No counting books or minutes. No parent signatures. Just read. Just enjoy!