We need to be a nation of readers. We need to all be truth seekers with open minds and open hearts. We need to be savvy consumers of information, not easily manipulated. We need to be innovative problem solvers. We need to grow in empathy and insist on compassion. We know that constant readers are more likely to be all of these things, and our free society depends on these free thinkers.
And so we in education are not just teaching children to read, we are hoping our students will become adults who always read freely and protect our democracy and our earth.
But what if what we do as educators actually makes our students never choose to read again?
What if we discourage every attempt they make to discover what they love to read?
What if they are told they cannot read that graphic novel, and they never choose another book?
What if they are told that the book they want to read is too easy or too hard, and they never trust themselves to choose a book again?
What if they are told they must finish the book they started before they can read another book? Will they be haunted by that unfinished book and never pick up another?
What if they are told they must be tested and graded over everything they read? Will reading always seem like a burden?
What if they are told there is only one way to interpret a book’s theme or an author’s purpose? Will they never try to think for themselves again?
What if they are always told they are not able to choose the “correct” reading material on their own? When will they see them selves as responsible for their own learning?
What if they are told they are losers if they don’t read more than their peers? Will they always see reading as a competition they will lose?
What if there is a great opportunity for our students to see themselves as readers, and we squelch it?
We know the answers to these questions, and we need to feel an urgency to let the future adults we teach each day have the chance to become free readers for life. We need to ask ourselves, "What if they never read again?"
We need to let them read what they love every day now, so they will continue to do so all their lives.
Because we need a nation of readers.
The radical transformative power of librarians is a force to be reckoned with. Do not be fooled by the cute t-shirts and obligatory cardigans, these are cultural warriors who are fighting the battle for the souls of our students on all fronts. And when they gather in force to plan their strategy, their power grows exponentially. I hope to take advantage of this great mind force to refine our free reading advocacy.
How do we make sure that even the most stubborn “nonreaders” have the opportunity to become authentic readers? Here is what really works.
The most important method for getting kids to read is relentless optimism. Never give up on them. Let them know there is a book out there they will like. Never label them or let them label themselves as “not being a reader.”
Introduce them often to an abundance of really fun and interesting reading material- use book talks, read alouds, peer sharing, book displays, book trailers, special events, and whatever else your creative mind can imagine. Follow lots of interesting educators online for inspiration.
Give them Access
Give them access to these materials as much as possible – in the classroom, in the MC, at home. Build a great classroom library, but never limit use of the school media center. Use both whole class trips to the MC to jumpstart someone who has had the same old book forever, as well as anytime passes to the MC so they can get another book as soon as they finish one and need another. Find opportunities for students to own their own books such as book fairs, book coupons, book give aways.
Let them have the freedom to read whatever they wish to read.
Do not limit them to books in their “reading level.” Reading levels are instructional tools never meant for independent reading (even Fountas&Pinell themselves say so.)
Do not limit them to books that seem too easy for their age. If we shame them for not reading “harder” books, they may never pick up another book.
Do not limit them to books that seem to hard for their age or grade. An entire generation grew up reading 300 page books when they were 8 years old because Harry Potter. Never underestimate the power of high interest.
Let them read graphic novel or comic books or magazines. Just let them.
Students can and will find books they can and want to read by opening the book and reading it for themselves.
Make sure they have time every single day to read. Every day they do not read, they lose track of the story line and therefore interest and comprehension. When they read every day they build stamina for longer and longer gulps of reading. Every athlete and musician knows how important daily practice is. As they improve their reading skills, they will be motivated to read more. This is the upward spiral we so need them to make. Make sure that the class time is upbeat but conducive to silent reading. No shaming or fussing at fake readers as long as they do not bother anyone else.
Keep a watchful eye on your students during independent reading time. Fake reading is a real skill. Have a nifty Kwame Alexander book in your hands, but peek out over the edge often to survey all of your readers. The fake readers will be glancing up at you every time. Smile and point at your eyes and then your book – the “keep on reading” sign language. Make a mental note of these students. Walk around and glance at page numbers and see who is struggling to get past page 12 while the miracle working fake reader is reading 50 pages a minute. Don’t shame them, or interrupt any one else’s reading to call them out. Just remember who they are.
After your free reading time is over, write some notes to yourself about what you have observed. Conferencing with students can be very formal and scheduled, or just an informal conversation, but make a special effort to talk to your “fake” readers. You really want to get to know them at this point. Find out what they like to do – basketball, dance, music, sports? Find some books you think they might like and share them with them quickly and often. Find out who their friends are and have them share with each other. If you think they are reading books too easy or too hard, offer alternatives, but do not suggest that they need easier or more challenging books, but book that they will like more. Do all this with no condescending or patronizing. Always respect their decisions.
Why not prizes?
Research tells us that the only effective incentives for encouraging reading are books and more time to read. We need our students to discover that reading is its own reward.
Never Give Up
Once again, be a relentless optimist. Never give up on trying to help every single student find what they love to read.
I heard some good news this morning when I met with our Partee Just Read Team. Some students are not reading during Just Read Time. How can that be good news, you may ask. It is good news because now those teachers know which students need help finding something they can and want to read. It is good news because it means these teachers are actually observing students during Just Read time every day. It is good news because I know those teachers are going to keep trying to connect those students to reading. It is good news because it is never too late to keep trying to help these students find that book that starts them on a reading life.
I heard other good news this morning and I hope to hear more. I want to hear about those students who cannot wait for Just Read time. I want to know what you do during the day to get students excited about reading. Is it a read aloud they loved? Is it a book talk? Did your enthusiasm about a particular author spark their interest? I wonder what strategies you have discovered to help your students settle in to read every day. Please share your successes and struggles so we can help our children grow into readers.
What is your Just Read story so far?
At 2:55pm I sat in an empty library thinking no one was going to show for my Just Read introduction meeting at Partee Elementary. I did not blame anyone for not wanting to come to a meeting at the end of the day, and the end of the first week of preplanning. Monday is the first day of school, for heaven’s sake. Who has time to learn about something else to add to their ever-growing agenda?
At 3PM over 20 folks came streaming in. Twenty-five people eventually dropped by, and over half have already committed to giving their students time to free read every day. Others are going to work out when it will work best in their schedules, which is one of the best things about Just Read- flexibility. Teachers choose when it will work best for them. I gave them a very quick run down about what they are committing to do, and they seemed happy to have permission to let their students have some instruction free, assignment free, free choice reading every day. The agreed to no “buts” as in “but no graphic novels” or “but of course on their reading level” or “but they will have to choose chapter books.” No, no, and no “buts”. I think they understand that Just Read does not ask them to throw out instruction or assigned reading, but that during that very special time every day they will let students discover what they love to read. Some of the folks who came were not classroom teachers, but they are working out how they can find time to let their students free read. Many who were not able to come will be asking their peers about Just Read, and will choose to join the team.
In a few weeks we will meet again to celebrate the forming of the first Just Read Team at Partee ES. This blog will be a place for encouragement and celebration as we begin our adventure.
So, Partee friends, what questions do you have about starting a Just Read time? What ideas do you have for making your Just Read time special for your kiddos?
Teachers at Partee Elementary School have asked me to introduce them to Just Read. I am going to chronicle our adventure together on this blog. Let me begin by saying that you do not have to be at this school to try Just Read. You can follow along with us and give it a try on your own. Let us know how it goes!
Let me start with a little introduction to what Just Read is.
Have you read a good book lately? Was it the kind you did not want to put down? Did it make you laugh right out loud? Did it shake you up? Are those characters still walking around in your brain? Do you want to shake everybody around you and say, “You have got to read this book?” John Greene describes this phenomenon best (doesn’t he always?) in The Fault in our Stars:
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
When I say we want our students to become readers, this is the kind of experience I want them to have. Well, maybe not to this extreme every time, but I want them to always be on the hunt for the next good book. I have been searching for a name for this kind of reader for quite awhile. What do you call the kind of reader who chooses to read when it is not required? What do you call a reader who makes reading an essential part of living? Authentic? Empowered? Successful? Strong?
Maybe we just call them a reader.
Maybe we want our students to become this kind of reader because we are this kind of reader. I dare say some of us became teachers because we want our students to become this kind of reader.
So how do we do this? Of course, we teach them how to read, but becoming a reader is more than being able to read. I contend that if we want our students to choose to read, we need to give them the opportunity to do just that. If we want our teachers to give students time to read what they choose, we are going to have to give them permission. Just Read does this. Just Read encourages teachers to give their students time for free reading every day. Just Read reassures teachers and administrators that even though it is not instruction, free choice reading increases academic success. Just Read does not take the place of instruction, but it celebrates the joy of reading for its own sake.
Just Read asks teachers to give their whole class a few minutes every day to read whatever they choose regardless of level, subject, genre, or format AND without any grades, assignments, points, or prizes.
You have many questions now, right? Ask away. Answers are coming. But I have a question for you – Have you read a good book lately?
Strong. Strong readers.
We want our students to become strong readers. Strong enough to want to keep reading. Strong enough to want to know more. Strong enough to start thinking for themselves. Strong enough to want to search and never stop searching.
For years I have been looking for the right adjective to describe the kind of reader we know will result from free choice reading- authentic, self-directed, searching, real, engaged, life long, inspired, empowered- all of these are accurate, important. But strong implies that reading is more than a set of skills on a checklist- it is an attribute that takes earnest, daily striving. Our young students are often excited about reading but become discouraged when they enter upper grades and find the weight of reading becomes too heavy. Increasing the volume of reading practice can solve this problem, but we don’t want students to read every day just so they can do better in school. We want them to be strong enough to face the 21st century onslaught of information, recognize misinformation, and search for truth for the rest of their lives. A bit much to expect, it could be said, but educators are always ready for a challenge.
So strong is the word.
Just Read Rationale:
If students are given the time every day to read whatever they choose from a great variety of engaging materials without any tests or assignment attached, they will become strong, self-directed readers.
We should all be readers. Not just capable of reading, but actually choosing to read, looking for something to read. Reading is not just a vocation or a hobby. Reading is not just a personal preference for some personalities. Being a reader means you have respect for yourself and for others. Being a reader means you want to be more than who you were yesterday. Being a reader means are not willing to let others decide what kind of person you should be. Being a reader means you realize your responsibility as a member of a free society. Being a reader means you care enough about others to make this world a better place. Being a reader means you never want to stop learning, stop growing, stop being. Being a reader means you like to laugh or wonder or be amazed.
If you say to yourself, I just don’t like to read, you have had a misstep along the way, a bad experience interfering with your own personal choice to determine your own life. Not reading means you are letting others determine what is best for you, completely relying on other people to guide your understanding of the world.
Having said all that, rather boldly, I must admit, please note that I did not say what exactly you should be reading or how often. In fact, I adamantly believe you should be on the hunt for what you want to read. Reading only because you feel obliged will discourage your intentions to become a reader.
Now, as I am writing this I am completely aware that if you are not reader you are probably not reading this. This means you are probably already a reader and this entire time you’ve read this you have been thinking about that person in your life who says they are not a reader. Perhaps you are thinking you will share this with them. I have to say that this rant will not make them a reader, and so it should not. We can only become readers when we are enticed by the beauty of reading.
I say all this to say that as teachers our job is never to think it is okay when students say they do not like to read, We cannot think it is okay for some of our student not to be readers. We have to look closely at why they are not readers. We have to give them the opportunity to discover what they can and want to read. We have to give them space to not have to read what we want them to read the way we want them to read. We have to make a great variety of reading materials available to them often and let them wander through them and ponder what they like. We have to validate whatever they choose. We must resist being critical of any kind of book they might like or we risk them becoming people who grow up saying they do not like to read. We have to let go and let them just read. Then they will become their own kind of reader. Then they will become readers.
We have several new teachers who want to know more about Just Read, so here is an introduction for them and anyone who just wants to brush up on what Just Read can do for our students. If this sounds good to you or you just want to know more, come by and see me any time. If you want to join our team, you will fill out your Just Read contract and get your t-shirt!
First of all, I want you to remember the last great book you read. Did it call out for you to finish it? Did you find yourself still thinking about it for days later? Did it make you laugh right out loud or cry when no one was looking? Or did it give you a new perspective on something you had never even considered before? Did it make you want to have another reading experience like it? I bet you are now on the hunt of the next good book, aren’t you?
I imagine that one of the many reasons you became a teacher was so your students could also have this joy of reading, so they to would think more clearly or feel more deeply because of what they have learned. After all, reading is learning, and that is what we are all about as educators. What we want is for our students to continue this reading and learning always – to become not just readers, but searchers, always on the hunt for the next good book.
So how does Just Read fit in to what we want for our students? Here is the basic premise- If we want students to become people who choose to read all their lives, we have to let them have that opportunity right now, every day. Our goal is to give them the chance to develop the stamina and engagement to become real readers for life.
We talk a lot about why this is important, but the Just Read program has a plan for making this really happen and here it is:
Just Read asks teachers to volunteer to commit to giving their whole class time 15 to 30 minutes every single day to read whatever they choose to read without any kind of testing, assignments, or grades.
About now you might be worrying like this- but we have so much content to cover, we have the TEST coming up, how can I take the time to do this? And here is where I can tell you with all confidence that the more free choice reading a student does, the better they will do on any test. You can look at the data on the Just Read website for some more confidence about this, and I hope you do. You can also be happy to know that our school’s administration supports Just Read and will not mark you down for your students Just Read time.
The idea is that the Just Reading time is a balance of instructional and free choice reading. Just Read does not ask you to stop any reading instruction or any content teaching. I have a corny way for you to remember how to make this balancing act really work. The best practices you are committing to in the Just Read program are Access, Choice, and Time. (Get it? ACT? Sorry, those acronyms are just so handy, though, aren’t they?) These best practices are based on research about what makes free choice reading successful and we need to remember all of them to make Just Read not a waste of time.
Access- Students need access to lots of interesting books. Just Read teachers commit to making sure their students have plenty of access to the school media center and to encouraging use of the public library. I commit to giving my Just Read teachers ways to build their classroom libraries and for students to build their home libraries.
Choice- We have to let students have absolute free choice of their reading materials during this time regardless of reading level, format, or subject for them to become real ownership of their reading. We have to let them learn what they like and can read. Letting go of reading levels is particularly difficult, but remember that if the students are actually engaged in reading whatever it is they are reading, they will become better readers.
Time- The amount and quality of Just Read time are equally important. Creating a positive atmosphere is crucial for this success. A quiet but upbeat time conducive for reading is so important because many, maybe most of our students do not have this time at home. Every day reading is also important – just as any athlete will get out of shape without endurance training, we cannot let a day go by or our students will lost their stamina for reading. The more engaged they are, the more they will read and build their reading endurance, but it can be lost if we do not do this regularly.
What does the teacher do during this time? No grading or emailing or looking at the cell phone. During this time, the teacher is observing the students (while “reading” themselves) to see who is not actually engaged in reading. They make a plan to conference with these students and help them find something they are interested in reading. I will work with you to help your students find something they like to read! We will get them hooked on reading!
Does this sound like something you would like to try? Come see me and let’s get started!
Happy New Year, Just Read Team! Thanks for giving your kiddos the opportunity to become genuine readers for life by giving them time every day to for absolute free choice reading. I know you have been observing them closely during all last semester, and I you are probably certain which of your kiddos are actually “fake” reading. They can be pretty good at this, right? Don’t give up on these students. They are not reading for one or both of these reasons- the book is too hard or it is not interesting to them. Please do not call them out during Just Read time, we know better than to embarrass them. Our job is to find something that is both interesting and that they can read. The tricky part is that they need to choose this book themselves. If we just hand them a book, they will not have ownership of their own reading. Please sign up for a whole class checkout and let me help these friends find a book they might like. I am also going to make it my goal to really promote some great reading this semester on the news and with classes. You can sign up for a new years book talk-a great way to get them interested in a new author or series. You might get some ideas for some fun read alouds. The key is being open to their choices – not worrying about how easy or hard or important the books are – just remember that being engaged in reading every day is the only way for them to become authentic readers. Let me know about your success stories!