This summer I am teaching a class through The Writers Circle called “A Reader’s Writing Club.” The goal of the class is to connect children as readers and writers and to help them learn from each other through discussion and from both art forms. A writer must read and a reader should write, or so I believe.
In planning this class, I have been reminded of a belief that I hold very strongly.
In order to raise readers, children must be given choices.
Many children who believe they are not readers have simply not been given the right books. Of course there are children who will not enjoy reading even when given choice and of course there are children for whom reading will always be difficult and therefore, not enjoyable. But that said, there are many non-readers who would be readers if they were presented with different titles.
Sara Kadjer, a professor and author posted the following on Facebook:
“I’m struggling a bit here and need some clarity from our community here.
Just had book fair with one of the boys and watched as kids wandered aimlessly, barely picking anything up. Knowing some of these kids, I asked them what was up (as my son wasn’t talking…). Apparently, they were each told a lexile band and/or AR level that a book must be in order to be appropriate for them. The offerings on the shelves were rich (books by Kate Messner, Rick Riordan, Tom Angleberger, Lisa McMann, Eliot Schrefer, amongst so many other smart, engaging writers). Hands were empty as each book was labelled with the corresponding numbers – and very few were “rigorous” enough. Overheard by two excited readers who were writing down a list of books – “we can read these in the summer when it is for fun.”
Matt turned and asked me why more writers weren’t writing books at his level. I shared that no writer worth reading is considering lexile scores and AR levels of their work. (Right?) His response? “Then why do we follow them in school?”
Ugh. Can you imagine if you walked in to a book store filled with awesome choices and you were told that you could only pick the hard stuff? Just this past week, I read a young adult novel, We All Looked Up and a mystery, The Stranger. I’m pretty sure that I could read harder books but I’m also pretty sure that while sitting poolside, these books were just right for me.
To me, the importance of giving children choice just couldn’t be clearer. There are certainly times in school when students should all read and discuss the same book. And there are times when teachers should assign books to address certain themes or encourage certain discussions. I believe, though, that there are many, many more times when children should be given the choice to read what they want to read.
If you want to get on my soap box with me, I strongly encourage you to read the article, “Great Books That Inspire a Love of Reading in Kids-Recommended by Kids.” The article describes in detail the reading program at The Center for Teaching and Learning, a demonstration school in Maine founded by master teacher Nancie Atwell. Atwell writes,
“We know that students need time to read, at school and home, every day. We understand that when particular children love their particular books, reading is more likely to happen during the time set aside for it. And we have learned that the only sure-fire way to induce a love of books is to invite students to select their own.”
She goes on to say,
“Our students have demonstrated that opportunities to consider, select, and reconsider books make reading feel sensible and attractive to children right from the start-that they’ll read more books than we dreamed possible and more challenging books than we dreamed of assigning them.”
I truly believe that if every teacher and every parent embraced the beliefs held by the teachers at The Center for Teaching and Learning, we would live in a nation of readers.
I’d love for you to read the article and then come back and tell me what you think.
And while you are at it, check out the great book lists created by students at The Center for Teaching and Learning’s website