Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Used to Hate Reading, But...(and here comes the important part)

Today I heard something disheartening to me. And it was enlightening and validating as well. How can that be? I heard a student talking about some things she had shared about me and my classroom and being my student. Her comment (here's the disheartening part): "I used to hate reading, (and here's where it gets better) but now I don't anymore."
"I used to hate reading." How many of us have students that say things like that, especially in the middle school years? Or maybe you've heard the ones who don't use the word "used to" - that's the part that made me feel better. At least she doesn't still hate it. The research is clear that early adolescence is when kids start to lose motivation and engagement with reading, and those years are probably when they most need stories that help them figure out the world around them.

So what can we do to get those kids to not have a "hate" for reading, 
or at least add in the "...but now I don't anymore" piece? 
Well, in my room it's a simple formula. 
I'm going to call it CATTT.

And when I asked my student why she said she doesn't hate reading anymore, she mentioned each of those things (in her own words): "You have good books and let us read what we want to." "It would be hard not to find a good book in your room." "You make us read." "We get to read in class every day." "My friends tell me about the books that are good." "You know what to tell me to read that's I'll like."

My kids get to choose what they want to read (for their level of interest and at or above or below their level of ability). That doesn't mean I don't push them to broaden or expand, I do, but within the limits of them giving it a try and they are always able, and encouraged, to abandon/pause books that aren't working for them. If they have an "off" day and can't face a novel, I have a shelf of 100 picture books they can choose from for that day.

I have over 1500 books in my classroom library, and they are all displayed in categorized bins so students can easily find what they want. There are no due dates and no limit to how many they can have out at once (they often mention that's why they like my classroom). We also have a wonderful school library and book room that they use.

We start class with 15 minutes of Independent Daily Reading (IDR) every. single. day. It is sacred time. The students know what is expected when they come into my room and get settled in and started in on it (most days) without prompting. [That is also time when they may be checking in/out books, logging/recording thoughts about a book they just finished, or browsing shelves for a new book or getting recommendations for a new book from someone] They also get more time than that on reading days and during twice a week SSR for 25 minutes. In addition, the only homework my students have is to read for at least 30 minutes every night.

We talk about books in my classroom. A lot. We talk about authors and publishers and series and movies made from books. We read aloud books (novels and picture books). Students talk to each other about what they read. I talk with students about what I read. They talk to me about what they read. We share book recommendations with each other.

I am a teacher who reads and knows books and knows my students. I can't teach reading if I am not a reader. I push myself to read more every year. I wasn't reading 112 novels in a school year five years ago, but I did last year. That was up from 68 novels the year before. I see the difference it makes when I know books. I read the books my students would want to read. I read the books I think they may not pick up on their own so I can recommend them. I read the books they love so I know what they are engaged in. I read books that are ladders up from what they're reading so I can support them as they grow. I read. I read a lot. I have to. I can't do this job and break down or work against a "hate" for reading if I don't. Sure I have my reading slumps, in fact I just got over one last week, but it turns around. I recommend books all the time (to current students, former students, and adults). I have to know my students in order to recommend books to them. I also have to know a lot of books so I can make the match between reader and title. It is a daunting task at times, but if I'm asking my students to read at least 30 minutes every night, I should be willing to do so myself as well. And I love reading. My students see my passion for it. It's important for me to share it with them. And I know books. Blogging has helped me in that regard, and so has building my PLN of teachers and librarians on twitter. I have to know books to be able to know that book that will be the hook for that student. And once I have a solid repertoire of go-to titles that have broad appeal for the students I work with, I then have to help them find that next book, so I have to know more, so I read more.

So that's it. It's not magic. It's not unreasonable. But it works. Remember CATTT, and if you have that in the adolescent classroom, you'll be working against the "hate" for reading and growing readers who realize that there just might be something to this whole book thing for them.