Sunday, April 23, 2017

What Are You Reading?

As a Reader’s Workshop teacher, I know many ideas about reading to be true. First, workshop should be about choice. Readers must have the opportunity to choose the books they want to read, know where to find the right books, and explore different genres. Readers also need time to read independently.  Readers who read consistently have higher academic success than those who do not (US Education Dept, US Endowment for the Arts). It is important for readers to have time to respond and reflect about the literature they selected. Some strategies include response journals, class discussions, book talks, book recommendations and book clubs, just to name a few.  Finally, readers need to understand that they are part of a classroom and global community of readers. Finding other readers with similar interests can help readers communicate, grow, and challenge themselves to increase reading stamina. The hope is that readers will develop reading habits that will continue into adulthood.
Knowing what I know about reading, why have I deprived myself of these same principles? Why was I not practicing what I teach my readers?
I knew that my teaching would improve the more I learned and applied best practice. I never wanted to miss an opportunity to be better. One of my favorite resources is professional texts.  I made it my mission to read these books during my free time. A few of my favorite authors include Chris Lehman, Jennifer Serravallo, Jeff Anderson, Colleen Cruz, Donalyn Miller, Kate Roberts and Ralph Fletcher.  
I believed I was modeling great reading to my students by reading my professional texts.  I was growing my mind and finding methods to improve my teaching at the same time.  It seemed like a win-win.  Over time, I began to dislike the fact that I was constantly working. While my own children played or read books they chose at the library, I was still devoting my private time to my profession. When I wasn’t working, I felt guilty and obsessed over the work left undone. I hate to admit it, but I started to resent reading.
A few months ago, I was with my girlfriends at parent pickup.  We were chatting about our usual topics when the conversation turned to a book she just finished.  Her eyes lit up, and her voice changed, as she shared her excitement over the book.  Someone else chimed in to share about her book and what she planned to read next.  This went on for a few minutes, and I stood in silence (those who know me understand how odd that must have been). I had nothing to offer. What could I say? “Hey, let me tell you about what I just read about student-led classrooms” or “I just discovered some great prompts which can be used while conferring with readers.”  This would not have been the place to voice these gems since none of these ladies are teachers. Why would they be interested? I also noticed that no one else is using this free time to discuss their profession. It dawned on me that these women were devoting time out of their busy schedules to, dare I say it, read for pleasure. It was like I had been hit with a brick.  Why was I depriving myself of the same joy, especially when I believed to my core the importance of selecting choice books to increase reading engagement?

As I pondered this thought over the next few days, something amazing began to happen. I started to notice other adults who were also finding great joy in reading: a substitute teacher, my brother-in-law, and a parent of one of my students. The parent, who is an avid reader,  introduced me to a novel by the best-selling author, Liane Moriarty. The following day, her daughter brought her mother’s copy to school so I could read it right away.  Once I started, I could not put the book down. As I turned to the last page, I was filled with so many emotions about the characters and plot.  I felt like I knew them and wanted more. I felt renewed because this feeling was the wake up call I needed. I was reminded how much I LOVE to read.  

I experience the same excitement in my classroom as I listen to my students talk about a book they just finished. They, too, discuss the characters, setting, and how the plot unfolded with vivid description. They are left will feelings of joy or sadness; some readers are even brought to tears. No matter the emotion, they are inspired to move on to their next book so they can experience those feelings again. A community of readers grows before my eyes. Thank you, authors, for creating this opportunity for my readers. 

I still love my professional texts. I know that my favorite authors will always be there with new ideas to support my teaching practices.  I also know that to be a better literacy teacher I need to devote time to my choice book and escape into the stories. This “me” time leaves me refreshed and inspired knowing I am in the presence of an author who is a master at her craft; someone who puts beautiful words together to tell a story.  I notice the strong vocabulary, elaborate sentence structure, and how the descriptions create a clear picture in my mind. I am made vividly aware that writing becomes a mixture of all we experience as readers. These experiences will transfer to my teaching, just like my time with the professional texts. It will also allow me to participate in engaging conversations (impromptu book clubs) with my adult peers and friends. My private time is more interesting and stimulating.  Most important, I am modeling my love of reading for my own boys. They already find pleasure in reading and our trips to the library, but I hope my boys will nurture this practice to become lifelong readers.
I don’t want them to lose the passion for reading like I did. Dr. Seuss reminds readers, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” Thank you, Dr. Seuss, and all the authors who are lighting the way as I begin my new-found journey as a choice reader.  

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