Monday, September 6, 2010

Mrs. Cheney is currently reading . . .

At our school, the teachers all have these signs next to the entrances of our classrooms:

Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So is currently reading _____ by _____

Mine says, Mrs. Cheney is currently reading Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. (Though I finished it more than a week ago, and I've read a book and a half since then)

The idea is that students will see that their teachers read for pleasure, and maybe some will be inspired to pick up one of these books to see what all the fuss is about. It's a nice idea, but many teachers keep the same sign up for months at a time. Some keep the same sign up all year. At that point, it ends up sending the exact opposite message from the one we would hope for. Students are then free to use teachers as examples of grown-ups who just can't find the time to read.

As an English teacher, one of my goals is to help students discover there is something out there in the world of literature that appeals to them. I want them to always be in the process of reading a book--and not the same book for months at a time. I want them to eagerly look forward to trips to the library to find new books to read. This is my goal.

To promote this attitude, I give my students reading time every week. They get to read whatever they choose. The 8th graders get 15 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the 9th graders get 40-45 minutes every Friday. I present this reading time as a gift and a privilege. It seems like such an easy way to promote reading, right? Wrong! There are always a few kids in every class who just won't do it. I suggest specific books I think may appeal to them, I let them read whatever they want, including magazines, I take them to book chats with the librarian so they can see what's out there, I ride a unicycle in circles while juggling burning torches, but nothing seems to reach this small group of students.

I am a firm believer that there is something out there for everybody. I'm a firm believer that all students like to read something. Otherwise facebook would fail and texting would be a thing of the past. So what's the trick? How do we translate the hours a kid will spend online or texting with a friend to a quiet 45 minutes with a good book in his hands?

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a former student. She was one of those perfect kids who did everything she was supposed to do. Over the course of our conversation, she told me she doesn't really like to read. She reads because she's required to, not because she wants to. I was genuinely shocked. How could this happen? We talked about it quite a bit, and she came to the conclusion that there have been so many requirements for reading, including the personal reading time each English teacher has given her over the years, that she now looks at all reading as a chore.

That hurts.

I don't know what the answer is, but I've sure been thinking about this a lot lately. I think about my own children. They are all readers. How did that happen? Is it an innate thing? Is it a girl thing? Is it something I did? And if it is, how can I give that gift to my students as well? Maybe this will be my career-long struggle. If anyone has suggestions, feel free to comment.

P.S. I read the best book this weekend--Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech. It's been a long time since I've been so emotionally engaged with a book.


Melissa J. Cunningham said...

This is my goal as a parent too. I learned to love reading from my parents. My kids see me reading all the time, especially while soaking in a hot bath. Nirvana!

Anyway, so far, they all enjoy it. Guess it's working!

seashmore said...

Kids (and lets face it, adults, too) are looking for ways to escape hard reality. As important as reality is, occasional removal from it is necessary to maintain sanity. Media does that.

Books are naturally the healthiest media to do that in, since they engage the reader and encourage imagination, since it is up to the participator to fill in the blanks left by the author. Maybe the characters are on the couch, but is it a plain colored couch or does it have a floral pattern? TV and movies answer questions like that. Internet leaves just as little to the imagination.

So I guess the struggle is getting young people to understand that books can help them escape reality just as much as other media, if not moreso. I really don't have any suggestions on how to do that, though. If I come up with one, I'll let you know.

Melissa J. Cunningham said...

I 'll add one more thing. I don't believe it's a girl thing. I know you don't either, but I can see how some people would look at it that way.

I'll tell you IS the parent. If parents take the time to read for pleasure, (and so many don't even if they do like it)the kids are going to look and think, "Hey. What the...?"

Then they'll explore and find that dang! It IS fun to read. It's like anything else. If a parent is doing something and yells for everyone to go away so they can do it, the kid is going to want to do it too!

So parents--be careful what your kids see you doing! LOL