It’s predictable. This time of the year frustrates me. Midterms have gone out, and most have been returned. Students have eased into the natural rhythm of seventh grade; most appear to be enjoying themselves. So what, might you ask, is so frustrating? Reading, for some, has dropped off. But I’m hopeful it will turn around. I teach middle school, after all, and sometimes all we have to operate on is hope.
The word just should never precede the word reading. For instance, students sometimes enter my room and ask, “Mr. K-C, are we going to just read today?” I know what they mean. In translation, they are asking if I can forget the day’s mini-lesson and grant them 41 minutes of uninterrupted reading time, rather than the 25-30 minutes they normally receive. They don’t mean anything by using the word just. They don’t yet have an appreciation of the connotation it conveys. Students want to read in class. Even the most reluctant readers will confront a book when there is nothing else distracting them. The only thing I need to do when working with a reluctant reader is make a good recommendation. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will make them laugh, but it will also make them feel emotions they’ve never experienced before in a book. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted will tempt them with a romance between Tyler, the protagonist, and Bethany, his foil. Or, they fall in love with Suzanne Collins female protagonist, Katnis, as she struggles for survival in The Hunger Games.
I’m not frustrated with what students do in class. But as I said earlier, it’s easy for a reader in class because there are so few distractions. However, outside of class, I’m sure you can understand, is a different story. In the last week or so, I’ve heard, “I had too much homework to read last night.” I’ve also heard, “I didn’t get home from (insert activity) in time to read.” Students don’t view reading as homework, which I guess is ok with me; reading as homework has a bad connotation. I want them to view reading as an intelligent, engaging and worthwhile practice. Some, unfortunately have reduced their 20 minutes of reading per night as an option, something that can be missed if other “more important” activities monopolize the time. Reading is being sacrificed. But there are solutions.
My sons have been indoctrinated to pick up a book any time they get in the car. In fact, our minivan is sort of a mobile library. They also eat while reading. I guess I could say they read while eating, but we sometimes have to say, “You better start eating or else you’ll be late for school.” We also read together as a family. This is not to say we avoid television. We watch plenty of television. We often read together at night, before bed, either from our own books or from a book we’ve all chosen to hear read aloud. Reading has become habitual in my house. But it didn’t become this way by chance. My wife and I had to model our expectations, just like I model my expectations for students in class. Kids are smart. They are less likely to read at home when reading is not valued. Yes, you may value reading, but adolescents don’t want to hear your values without seeing them in action. At least this is what they tell me almost every day in class. So, I write with them and I read with them. I can’t be the equivalent of the boss who tells his charges to do something while he goes off and does something else.
I know I’m sounding preachy. Part of me doesn’t want to sound this way, but another part of me is planted firmly on a soapbox from which I refuse to be pushed off. Readers can’t be made in school alone. They must be nurtured. This nurturing must occur in all aspects of their lives. Help me. I’m hopeful we can work together – me in my classroom and you at home – to model for and create critical readers.