Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Time to Read

One of the reasons I chose to teach English is my love of literature, so it is ironic that I rarely have time to read for pleasure during the school year.  For years I accepted this paradox, convincing myself that there wasn’t enough time in the day to read for analysis and read for pleasure.  

My inability to find time for reading even infiltrated my classroom.  I convinced myself that I couldn’t ask my students to read “extra” books, so they better enjoy what I assigned.

This year I have changed my approach and carved out time for my students to read and as a bonus found time to read for myself as well.  This change was influenced by three very different sources.

I first began to contemplate the need to help my students cultivate a love for literature when I read Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide.  The book takes a radical position claiming that teaching literature can actually kill a student’s love of reading if done incorrectly.  Gallagher advocates for a 50/50 approach, claiming that 50% of the students’ time should be spent reading material of their own choice and interest.  This book definitely got me thinking, but I still wasn’t sure how to incorporate this in my classroom.

A few months later, I was working to align the ELA CommonCore Standards with my curriculum and was struck by the benchmark that students should “self-select texts for personal enjoyment, interest and academic tasks.”  This only magnified the lack of choice students in my classroom.

But the moment that I decided I had to dedicate time to cultivate a love of reading in my students came during a trip to the library with my seven-year-old son.  He wandered from shelf to shelf rejecting every suggestion I made.   As I watched, I flashed forward to the students in my class (boys in particular) that resist reading and I knew this was a problem I could no longer ignore.

So this year, I made the decision to give my students 10 minutes each day or 50 minutes each week to read texts of their choice in class.  This isn’t a radical concept, but it was a major commitment of time.   I worried I wouldn’t be able to cover all my curriculum goals, I was worried that I couldn’t manage the time, I was worried my students wouldn’t read.  And yet despite all my worries, I decided to make time to read.

The results were better than I could have imagined.  We began each class by reading for a timed ten minutes.  And not only did 95% of my students have a book everyday, over 1/3 exceeded the reading minimum requirement, and as a bonus, I was able to read three books purely for fun.

Committing time for reading is like putting your money where your mouth is.  We cannot say we value reading if we aren’t willing to make it a part of our curriculum.  I used to believe there wasn’t time to read for “fun,” but I now realize there isn’t time to ignore the importance of this essential reading.

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