Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Slice of Life: Book Joy

A couple of weeks ago, it was a very hot day here on the coast of New England.  The temperatures remained in the eighties even in the evening, which is something that only happens a handful of times where I live.  It was a great night to be outside, so I put a book in my backpack, grabbed a towel, and hopped on my bike and rode down to the beach.  I spread my towel in the sand when I got there and laid down.  I soaked in the sunshine, relished the breeze, and read The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott. As I lounged in the sand reading, I was experiencing the present moment – a perfect summer evening with warmth, sunshine, and the background noise of the ocean.  I also drifted into the imaginary world of a young girl, in 1832, working in textile mill, suffering the deplorable conditions in exchange for a wage that brings her freedom and independence.  It was a perfect evening.  I was in one of my favorite places at one of my most favorite times of the year and I was getting lost in another place and time that I could only experience through the pages of a book.  

This is something I want my students to feel – the joy of being immersed in a story.  I want them to be engaged and excited as the books they read provide them with an experience beyond their world.  For me, my love of reading began when I was a kid.  I loved my frequent library visits in which I carried home a stack of books, always wanting to bring home more than the allotted limit.  I read every Sweet Valley High book I could get my hands on.  Whenever my teacher passed out a classroom book club flyer it was a big deal and I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the books I ordered.  Books have been an important part of my life and have brought me joy for many years.  Although some of my students have this same joy, there are others who do not.  As a reading teacher, I want to help instill this joy of reading in all my students. 

Although I love reading now and loved it as a child, there was a time when I didn’t do much reading.  When I was in high school, I remember a lot of assigned reading.  Many of the books my teachers’ assigned just didn’t engage me.  Maybe, if I read Walden now I would be much more interested, but it just didn’t do it for me when I was fifteen.  I was assigned books that I struggled to understand and had to reread over and over again.  If I reread Silas Marner today maybe I would enjoy it, but in high school I had a very hard time comprehending what I was reading.  I did not read books for pleasure beyond what was asked of me in school.  Sometime when I was in college I rediscovered my joy of reading.  I read mysteries and psychological thrillers and detective novels.  These were books I didn’t want to put down, so unlike many of the books I had been assigned to read in high school.  I hadn’t known these books existed.  I thought the world of “adult” reading consisted of the classics I read in high school, that often left me confused or bored.

My life as a reader has helped me to understand how important it is to offer students choice in their reading.  Great literacy teachers know this and find ways to provide students with opportunities to choose what they read, whether it’s during independent reading or literature circles.  Students are more engaged when they are able to choose books of interest to them.  Because of my own experiences as a reader, I also understand that students need to be supported and guided in order to find books that are of interest to them.  As a reader, I visit bookstores, read book reviews, and talk to friends about books.  I am aware of my book interests and I know how to find the books that fit these interests.  As a reading teacher, who wants to instill the joy of reading, my job is to help students find their reading interests, provide access to engaging books, and promote a variety of books and genres.  Through stocking my library with books related to my students’ interest and providing book talks I hope to support students in finding and reading books they will love.  One of my goals this year is to increase the amount of book talks that I conduct because I know there are many books my students will never find if I don’t lead them there.  If my students can find the joy in a book I have recommended than I am helping them to develop a great reading life. 

10 comments:

  1. I don't think I'll ever enjoy "Silas Marner," but I do think there are ways to hook kids into reading poetry and the classics. We have to stop the worksheet, slice and dice merry-go-round.

    I'll be teaching AP Lit and Comp next year and have struggled choosing books because above all, I want kids to engage w/ texts in a way that empowers them to be life-long learners and not just AP test hoop jumpers.

    As Kyleen Beers says, "If we want kids to learn vocabulary, let them read." Everything we do must be w/ a focus on reading and writing. Nothing else matters as much.

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    1. Yes, authentic reading is so much more powerful than any worksheet! You are also right that there are ways to hook readers to read those texts they wouldn't read on their own. In some way helping students relate their own lives to what's happening in the text can be powerful.

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  2. I'm like you. At my high school we had to read for 15 minutes every morning. The whole school started in homeroom classes, had announcements and then read for 15 minutes before going to our first class. It was great, but I never read beyond those 15 minutes unless the book was really fabulous. I was worried I would finish it and not have anything to read during reading time! Now, I find myself reading only the books I think I will like. I am trying to expand my list though, to include the books my students are enjoying so I can join in on their conversation. I loved your opening description. I am missing that sort of freedom now that I am busy with my own little kids. :)

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    1. I am very picky about the books I choose for myself! I am often pleasantly surprised when I step out of my comfort zone. In the past few years I've tried to read more kids books that I can pass on to my students - many are not books I would necessarily want to read, but I know my students will like them.

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  3. I think it is very important to be able to select books that you want to read but I also think one of the roles of school is to expose students to a variety of ways of looking at the world. So, I also think assigned reading has merit. It would be nice if a teacher could strike a balance between those two objectives.

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    1. Balance is a great thing. I can see how texts, such as the classics, are part of our culture and there is value to this reading. Finding the appropriate time for choice and for assigned is key.

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  4. I wish students could always have free choice. I'm one who will hate a book no matter what if I'm assigned it. Assigned books just rip the joy right out of reading for me.

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    1. Also, as far as assigned reading, I think many students learn how to get away with not reading the book. In Chris Tovani's book, I Read It, But I Don't Get It, she talked about herself as a reader - in high school she was able to listen in to other students' conversations to figure out what a book was about and she could get by.

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  5. Love this post about your journey as a reader and your immersion in a book on the beach. Good luck with including more book talks this year!

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    1. Thanks, I hope to get all my students reading more!

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