6 Ways we are Killing Their Love for Reading

Reading instruction in my classroom took a huge turn for the better after reading The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller. I truly believe that every school teacher should read these books. I lend my copies out all the time! They are super easy reads.

I have always LOVED reading. I am a book worm. I am happiest in a bookstore and I have spent a small fortune on Amazon buying new reads. When I found out that I was pregnant, I didn't buy onesies. I bought books! But, I never liked reading class in school. I didn't like reading and rereading the same story and then answering questions at the end of the story. I was what Miller calls an Underground Reader. I was a gifted reader who didn't feel a connection between the reading I was forced to do in school and the reading I preferred to do on my own. 

There are things we are doing everyday in the classroom that kill our students' love for reading. Some are easy fixes and others are an entirely new way of looking at our job as a reading instructor.

Do you like to be told what you HAVE to read? I sure don't. I love to read books about teaching, but if my administration tells me that I HAVE to read the book, I go into it with a sense of dread. Does the person assigning the reading know what I like to read about? Assigned reading takes the fun out of reading!

When a student picks their own books, they discover the types of books that interest them. If they find the book interesting, they are more likely to finish it and choose another book! When we tell them what they have to read, it becomes an assignment or a chore. When we let them choose, reading becomes a hobby. Besides, they need to learn and practice the skill of choosing books. This will serve them in the future when they don't have you there! I gently suggest books based on my student's need and interests. If the book does not grab them- we find something different.

We will need some shared reading experiences in the classroom. There will be times, especially during science and social studies, that students are assigned a passage to read. Students need to get used to this as well because it's the way it will be in college and their future profession. I just don't want assigned reading to be the bulk of their reading experience in my classroom. For all of the time that students spend reading something that I have assigned, I like to give them twice as much time to read something they choose.

I am a pretty good reader. I have been reading nonstop since I was in elementary school. However, I still enjoy an easy romance novel by the pool from time to time. Other times, I pick up trickier books that require more attention and thought to comprehend. I think this makes me a well rounded reader.

So why do we tell our students that they need to read books that are on their level? They should be allowed to enjoy an easy read from time to time as well. My middle daughter is an excellent reader and reads almost anything she can find. She especially loves to read about dogs. Anytime a new Puppy Place book comes out, she wants to read it. It is far below her comprehension and fluency level. But I still buy the books for her because she LOVES them! They make her happy! And I know that when she is finished, she will pick up a book like Where the Red Fern Grows.

On the flip side, when we tell a student to read books just from the purple basket or just from the level K basket, we are putting a ceiling on their reading potential. Students who are truly interested in a topic are more likely to work harder to understand books that are ABOVE their reading level! My daughter was reading nonfiction dog training books, intended for an adult audience, when she was in third grade. She had an interest and so she applied herself in a way that she would not if she was reading a book about dinosaurs. Sadly, our dog is still a HUGE troublemaker! This is the mess he caused this past weekend!

Spend time getting to know each of your students and their reading interests. I  do this through my guided reading groups and reading conferences. Then suggest books that they would find interesting. If you notice that they are always choosing books below their level, it probably just means that they need some recommendations and to know that you believe in them. I have been known to buy a new book from the Scholastic order just because I am certain that a particular student would LOVE it. I write something like this on a sticky note, "I saw this book and knew you would love it. You are welcome to read it first if you want!" Then I set it on their desk. You should see the big smiles when they read the note. They feel appreciated, understood and special. They almost always read the book and are excited to update me not their progress daily!

I don't organize my books by  level. I organize them by series, author, topic, etc. This helps my students to find those special books! I do have the level written on the inside cover. This is a reference more for me than for them.

When I was in third grade I loved reading Boxcar Children books. So when I got my first teaching job, I bought loads of Boxcar Children books from a used bookstore. I was surprised when they sat untouched in my classroom library! So I asked my students to make a list of their favorite books. Turns out they all wanted to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. What?! That doesn't sound good! I bought one of the books and was sad to see that it was a graphic novel with loads of cartoon doodles. This isn't what I want my kids to be reading!

Thank goodness I came to my senses fast! My goal is to encourage students to be life-long readers. One of the worst things I can do is tell them that they can't read their favorite books in my classroom! So I started filling my tubs with the books that THEY liked: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dork Diaries, Humphrey, Magic Treehouse, etc. Each year my kids are a little different and so I am updating and adding to my library every year to make it what that group of kiddos needs. I only have a couple Boxcar Children books in the library. I don't want to waste precious space with books that are not being read.

Obviously, I want to introduce my students to new series and authors, but I always strive to have lots of books that appeal to them. If a kid loves a book- let them read it! They don't have to like the books that you think they should like.

My first year teaching, I read Wayside School is Falling Down aloud to the class. My students enjoyed it. And it is a good thing they liked it because we read that book ALL year!

It took a couple years for me to realize that, I was teaching my students that this was an acceptable about of time to take reading one average length book. I was also making it difficult for my students to get truly invested in the story. I would read for 10 minutes here and 5 minutes there. They never got a chance to get lost in the book. Book lovers know just how much fun it is to get lost in a book and read it in a day!

I don't have enough time to read an entire chapter book to my class in a day. And my student book club groups don't have time to read through a book that fast either. But I am committed to reading for 20 minutes per day to my class. And my book clubs will meet for an hour each week. I consider these times sacred and I don't cancel them unless it is truly unavoidable such as a field trip day. I started keeping a list of the chapter books that we completed on our reading board.

The students love adding a new book to the list and it reminds me daily of my commitment to my readers. This year, we finished 2-3 chapter books per quarter and my book clubs read another 1-2 books per quarter. I was able to model an appropriate speed for finishing a book, allow them to get invested in the plot and introduce my students to more authors, genres and series than ever before.

Isn't it the sweetest thing when your class claps after you finish a book? :-)

I am not a fan of reading textbooks. Most of our students are not either. When I was a brand new teacher, I was happy to have the textbook. It was a crutch and made me feel more confident.

I hated my reading block and nearly left the general ed classroom after that year. It was so boring! I thought I would scream if I had to hear those same stories AGAIN! Do they go out of their way to put long and boring stories in those books?! Just kidding. Kind of.

Here is what my week looked like:
Monday: We are reading the story together. Only half the class is paying attention. My low readers are lost. My high readers are bored. A couple of students actually lay their head down on their book. This must not be a story that interests EVERY student. Go figure!
Tuesday-Thursday: We reread the story in small groups. My low readers are still struggling, but they have me for support. My high readers are giving me dagger eyes. They scare me a little. A few students liked the story the first time that we read it. No one likes it now.
Friday: Students take the comprehension test. I keep telling them that they should use the text and go back and find the answers. No one opens the book. Why bother? They have memorized the story.

The next year, I took my reading textbooks and stored them on the very top of my cabinets where I couldn't reach them without a ladder. I went to the library and checked out chapter books. Book clubs were born! No more long whole group reading on Monday. No more rereading the same story all week. No more tests on whether the student memorized the story. Now we spend time reading chapter books that are picked based on student interests. We are still practicing all of the important reading skills using book club graphic organizers, but we are having fun doing it. Teacher and students are happier!

Now I know that many schools require that teachers use the reading textbook. Can you use it, but make it a minor part of your reading program rather than the central resource? Do you really have to give the story tests? Or can you get scores from graphic organizers and participation points? Does the story have to be read more than once during the week? Can it be a teacher read aloud? Or can students listen to the story during one of their reading centers? Be creative and see if you can meet your school's basic requirements and still give your students a rich source of reading materials that better meet their interests.

It has become a regular practice by teachers and schools to require students to read for a certain number of minutes per night. My school requires 30, but I think that 20 is pretty common. Here is the problem- a reading requirement like this makes reading a chore. Students spend most of their time just staring at the clock. Or asking, "Is it almost time to be done?" How can we expect kids to get invested in a book when they are anxiously waiting for the timer to go off? They are not loving the story. 

It is almost impossible to know how many minutes a  real book lover spends reading. My oldest daughter reads on our way to school each morning, as she is waiting in my classroom, on the way home from school, by the pool, waiting for dinner and before bed. I have to just estimate the number of minutes that she reads because I can't really keep tracks. She is reading on and off all day! 

Many school even offer prizes for students who read for a certain number of minutes or hours. At my school students earn parties and prizes based on the number of minutes that they read. This teaches children that the reason they read is to earn the prize. So what happens in high school, college and when they are adults? No one will be giving them a prize to read. Will they continue reading?
I have also found that it can lead to dishonesty when filling out the reading log. Parents don't want their child to miss out on the prize and will fill in the number necessary to make the goal. 

Instead, I would love to be able to challenge kids to read a certain number of books. The 40 book challenge was developed by Donalyn Miller. She asks her students to read 40 books from different genres throughout the year. No one receives a prize for meeting the goal. Instead they receive intrinsic rewards. They feel good about what they have done and their teacher and peers are proud. This type of reward is healthy! Students who are rewarded this way are more likely to continue challenging themselves when they leave her class.