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.