Thursday, January 3, 2013

What counts as reading?


Over break I have spent a lot of time on Twitter – actually, who am I kidding, I always spend a lot of time on Twitter. On several different days I have been part of a Tweet thread on what “counts” for books in our classrooms.

Many teachers ask students to read a certain amount of books a year. In The Book Whisperer Donalyn Miller shared that she challenges her students to read 40 books each year. They kept track in their notebooks. Here’s how I have always interpreted Donalyn’s book challenge for her students – as a goal. I’ve seen the photos of her students at the end of the year holding up numbers of how many books they’ve read. Some were over 100, some well below 40. She said that doesn’t mean they cannot get an “A” – one set of boys with lower numbers had doubled or tripled what they read the previous year, how is that not success?

So do I have my students make a goal of how many books they will read? Absolutely. I tell them the goal has to be above 40. Mainly I picked 40 because I know it will shock them. I know they think they can’t do it. They can. Do I keep track of how many books they’ve read on a regular basis? Nope. They do, but I don’t even look at it. I glance at their notebook in reading conferences, ask if it is up to date, but I don’t keep track. Honestly, that’s for a few reasons. One, it would be one more thing on my plate and that plate is pretty full as it is. Two, I want them to own this, not me. So when several kids mentioned before break that they needed to adjust their original number, they were already almost at it, the class decided to do just that. I was fine either way – I reached my Goodreads goal for reading in August – I think. I didn’t readjust, just figured I’d see how far I could surpass it. That being said, I like letting them make the decisions here.

As for what counts, which we’ve been having a lot of conversation about, I think I might be in the minority when I say I count anything. So yes, graphic novels, picture books, rereads, audiobooks, another book in a series (Seriously, a friend’s daughter goes to a school where books in a series don’t count. WHAT?), I count them all. I’m sure I have some of you questioning that – picture books count? I could read 40 in a day. Yep, so can I. I think the reason I count anything is because I’m sending a message here – reading counts. Heck, I’d count a magazine if they wanted to read that. My student Matt has read 140+ graphic novels this year. Last year he says he was not a reader. Should I tell him that we need to count each graphic novel as a ¼ of a book? Or only ones with X amount of pages will count? What message would that send to him? If you ask Matt if he is a reader now, his answer would be a yes. He actually ran into a bus one days (it was parked) when he was leaving school because he was reading as he walked.

What I have found is that the more they read – of any format – the more they want to read. Do some get stuck in ruts that they only want to read graphic novels, they only want to read fantasy? Yes. Are they sometimes reading below their reading level? Yes. I’ll tell you a secret here, though. I read 508 books last year. Easily 450 were below my reading level, maybe more. I’m still a pretty good reader. My entire goal for the year is to help them fall in love with reading. They need to find their niches – what do they love? Counting what they read shows that I value their choices. The higher the volume, the more exposure they are getting to stories, characters, plots. I value rereading because I do it. Books I love, characters I love, I like to visit again and again.

Even saying all of this, I do try and help them get out of a rut. For example, with Matt after about 80 graphic novels we talked about goals in one of our conferences. I asked if he thought he should try and branch out. He agreed but I could tell he was nervous. He wondered if he was only a reader with graphic novels. I book talked many books for him, all ones I was sure he would find success with. He ended up choosing The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I think he felt that the sparseness of the text on the page was non-threatening. He devoured it and went on to read several other books in verse. Then he went back to graphic novels. All I ask of him, of all my readers, is that they try something else now and then. I tell them, how will you know if you like it if you don’t try? Same thing I tell my sons about vegetables, come to think of it.

So as I go back to school on Monday I will tell my students of my own #bookgapchallenge. What genres do I avoid reading? For me I tend to shy away from the classics. As a result, my first book purchase of this year was Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I’m going to tell them why I am challenging myself to read these books. Then we are going to look at the goals they made for the second half of the school year. We will discuss how they will accomplish those goals. But that does not mean I will stop counting graphic novels, or that I will discourage them from reading them. Who knows, maybe they will one day write some of those comics that I can place in my library. Or maybe those will be the gateway books into a life of reading for them. That is absolutely something I want to encourage. 

24 comments:

  1. I've had a few students throughout the years say they weren't readers & I wish we'd had more graphic novels then, because I think they might have been hooked a little more. Mostly (middle school level) I bought different magazines like about sports & skiing, etc. that helped a bunch. I agree with you Katherine, everything counts & some day I know they'll find a book that says much to them even more. What I am hearing from you is that you don't give up, & that's a terrific message. Read On! (I hope you'll like Pride & Prejudice!

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  2. I adore this! Reading counts. All reading counts. If they fall in love with reading, who cares how they get there?

    I tend to "push" my students a bit more - because my students generally come to me already strong readers. So I nudge them into new genres as much as I can. But it's not part of their grade. I have students voluntarily doing the 40 book challenge (I'm not the main reading teacher for them, I'm supplemental). For them, we count one GN per category. But again - these are strong readers self-selecting the challenge. And I'm participating in the challenge, so they can see that I am also a reader :)

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  3. I love this post! It's what I have been thinking about for days. My goal for this year (the first I've set ever, is 365) will count everything. Maybe it will be too low, who knows. Maybe too high! But how will I ever know what to recommend to my first grade readers if I don't read early chapter books and picture books myself? I loved Ivy +Bean! Happy reading!

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  4. Katherine, I'm right there with you. I, too, read The Book Whisperer (this summer), and I agreed with so much of what she wrote, but one thing I will not do is force students to read outside of their comfort level. Having said that, though, know that I do have 1-1 conferences with my students every other week, and I do challenge them, but no forcing. I love the idea of the #bookgapchallenge. I have tried to read outside my box this year, and I'll let the students know about it, encouraging them to join us. Thank you for your thoughts! I'm glad "Read for enjoyment or to learn something" is the only homework I give... So they DO! :-)

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  5. Loved this post. Jennifer, thanks for directing us here. I so agree that reading is reading.

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  6. Thanks for sharing! You sound so much like me, both in your approach to your students and their reading and in your own reading (except you read more than me!) I challenged myself last year to read Pride and Prejudice and it was completely wonderful! I hope you enjoy it!

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  7. Thanks for this post, Katherine. It's easier to let out thoughts in a blog than in 140 character snippets (even less because there were about six people in on that conversation).


    This is something I've really struggled with this year. I had never done the 40 Book Challenge before. In my heart, everything counts, just like you said. So I wasn't sure what to do, what to count, etc. I emailed Donalyn about it. No one else at my school does anything like this, so I have no colleagues close by to bounce ideas off of. Thank goodness for Twitter! I will definitely make some changes before the year is done, and for next year.


    I appreciate your thoughts on this topic--it helps me clarify and reflect on my own.

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  8. Katherine, I completely agree that if we look at our own adult reading life, it gives us something to think about when we worry that independent reading choices aren't rigorous enough. Seriously, how often do we choose books that are going to be challenging to get through? And if we do, we have years of reading experiences to get us through the tough parts. Good ideas for 2013 goal setting!

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  9. Katherine, you've done it again! I love this and completely agree: all reading counts. And letting your readers know this is so powerful. Yeah, you are awesome. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  10. Katherine, I've also thought a lot about this topic. I also count all those things you've listed - of course books in a series, of course books that are "below their level". However, I noticed that all the things you listed were BOOKS (except magazines)...as we do more with digital literacies, I struggle with "counting" non-print sources. How do we think about webpages, twitter threads, GoodReads reviews (I know, webpages), etc.? It actually hasn't been an issue with my 4th graders, who mostly don't have access to the internet at home, but...I have been wondering about it when I log my own reading.

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  11. Oh my gosh this is a whole workshop rolled up into one amazing blog!! I am sharing it with everyone I know especially the part that you allow ALL reading. I remember when I counted Sports Illustrated for Kids and my student responded "Well if that counts I will be reading more!" Isn't that we want?

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  12. Mary Alise HerreraJanuary 3, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    Margaret, I would argue what you listed are still print sources, but not paper print. They're also not as measurable! I'm not sure I'd want students counting little snippets of reading and trying to get it to tally into something, but perhaps there is an "I also read ..." column or way of documenting?

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  13. Mary Alise HerreraJanuary 3, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    BTW Katherine - great post. I love how "everything counts" but more importantly your reason why!

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  14. Reading counts. Every book matters. I agree with you 100% and apply the same sort of counting in my high school classroom. Last year I had several juniors who wanted to do a monthly book club after school--we read Austin's Pride and Prejudice and then Graham's Pride and Prejudice with Zombies. It was a hoot. I love how your frame of gateways reminded me not to be the gatekeeper.


    On a one little word note, I'm working on a little "be" art and thinking of you this afternoon.

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  15. Love the combo of the two versions of Pride and Prejudice! :) And I loved your one little word art. Fun!

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  16. Absolutely! I have some kids who read SI and study and analyze the stats religiously. Very in depth reading!

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  17. Margaret, great question. I wouldn't count those as books but would absolutely count that as reading. I think that would be a time that we could each keep a list of what we read in a day for a week and then compare notes. Some days I might be reading more books, some more internet items. I think we'd want a balance - which could lead to good conversations.

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  18. Thanks, Adam! Trying to type it all out on Twitter was driving me crazy!

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  19. I can't wait to dive into Pride and Prejudice. Few more books to polish off that might win the Newbery and then I am diving in.

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  20. Good luck with your goal! And I completely agree. The majority of my reading is for my students. I know of no other way to recommend books to kids than to read their books.

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  21. I can completely see why you need to push your kids more. And showing them that you are a reader, so important!

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  22. I agree. I've taught for over 15 years. I wish there had been more graphic novels when I started.

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