Sunday, November 10, 2013

Raising Readers

My most important readers - Liam and Luke
Often I joke around that the book I really want to write is a parenting handbook, but then quickly laugh and point out two things: one, my boys are only eleven and eight. I am well aware that we haven’t hit the teens years yet and things could, and probably will, get interesting. Two, with children who are not adults, writing a parenting handbook seems to be a surefire way to raise children who do everything the complete opposite of what you write about. So no, I will not be writing one of those.

It is tempting as a teacher. We see so many kids each year. I can begin to find common traits among some kids regarding how they are being raised – some good, some not so good. So I do think we have a wide knowledge base. Another thing we know about is readers. A comment on my Reading in the Wild post on Nerdy Book Club caught my attention – what advice do I have on raising readers? I thought about that, a lot. I see that I raise readers in two different facets of my life: I raise students who are readers and my own children, who are readers. Truly, what I do with both is pretty much the same.

Role Models
I truly believe there is one sure-fired way to raise readers, let them see you reading. On a regular basis I share the following with my students:

·      The book I am reading.
·      The book I am dying to read.
·      That I am exhausted because I had to stay up late and finish a book.
·      My to read stack(s).
·      My predictions, questions, reactions to books.
·      Tear-stained pages in books where I just broke down.

The adults in a child’s life make a huge impact. My parents were readers. I knew they read before bed every single night. There was always a book on their side table at their bed and still is today. I don’t think this point can be undersold. If you want your child or your students to be readers, you have to become one as well. If you can actually read what they’re reading, so much the better.

I expect my students to read. Every. Single. Night. I expect the same of my children, and they do it. When I talk to parents about this, they often ask what I do when my boys don’t want to read? What do we do when we’re busy? I know it sounds too simple, but we read. There were times when my boys were younger that they might not have wanted to read each day unless I read with them, so I did. Or my husband did. I tried to get “homework” reading – reading a story out of a basal for reading class (whole other topic) done after school. Reading before bed is a required habit in our house and it has to be pleasure reading. We end every single day the same way, reading for at least twenty minutes. Thus, the reading is fit in. Sports schedules, school schedules, life schedules notwithstanding, we read.

Make it Fun
Reading shouldn’t be viewed as a chore or kids won’t want to read. This is one reason why in my reading class, I value choice. I don’t care if we read graphic novels every single day, or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series two million times in a row. Read comics, animal books, fantasy, audio books, etc. - I just want you to read. I want you to enjoy reading. Granted, I will try and get to know you as a reader so I can help you branch out a bit if you are in a rut, but the most important thing to me is the act of reading and enjoying the books.

When my youngest son, Liam, was in first grade he struggled with reading. He went to a Tier Two reading class for RTI. He also met with a Reading Recovery teacher daily. Every night he needed to read a story for reading class, a story from his LLI book for Tier Two, and a Reading Recovery book. This is a lot of reading, and none of it was his own choosing. I knew, however, how critical it was to get him to grade level, so I devised a plan. Liam and I started “read-a-thons” in my bed each night. We’d put on our pajamas, bring his books to my bed, and ALSO, one book he chose. I’d listen to him read his three books for school, and then we’d dive into the world of Elephant & Piggie, or whatever book he chose for that day. We’d do voices, laugh, reread, and more.

Liam grew a ton that year and is still a big reader. As a third grader he doesn’t need much help with reading. Last night he sat next to me as he read Hard Luck, a book he stole out of my stack as soon as it arrived. Laughing as I laid next to him and read my own book, I looked over and asked what was so funny. He glanced up and said, “Nope, not spoiling the book. You have to read it yourself.”

Reading is Part of our Life

I cannot imagine my life without books. Yes, we read a lot, but books don’t enter my life only at bedtime – they are always there. When Luke, my oldest son, was nearing the end of Mockingjay recently, we talked about it a lot. My husband had already read the entire series, as had I. When Luke began I informed him that I would be anxious to see his reaction to it, I had a hard time with the book. He would update me regularly with his feelings. Seventeen pages from the end, he looked up from a chair in the kitchen while I was cooking dinner and said, “Oh crap.” Yep. He finished and we had terrific discussion about why we felt that Collins had made certain choices.

Our house is a house filled with books. Stories live throughout it. There are books laying on almost any horizontal surface you can find. Some are the ones we are currently reading, some we plan on reading soon. Some are just interesting books to flip through while waiting for someone – but the opportunity to read is there. If you are a friend of my children and you come over, I will ask what you’re reading. If you have no answer, you will be leaving our house with a book. And you can be certain, if it is your birthday or Christmas, you will be getting books.

Wrapping it Up

Yesterday Luke’s fifth grade basketball team had their first game. I was assigned to work the gate for both games. Stationed by a door, my sign that had the prices of admission kept flying away. Finally, I laid the book I was currently reading on top of it – The House of Hades. Kids from the opposing team didn’t know me, but struck up a conversation on whether it was my book and, once they knew it was, what I thought about it. Kids for our team coming in asked what part I was at. As older kids began coming in to watch their siblings or play in the later game, they would give me their money and rattle off a title.

The parent working the concession stand kept glancing over. Finally she asked, why the titles? The former student in front of me said something like:

Mrs. S says she is our reading teacher for life. We need to tell her what we’re reading forever. If we’re in a rut, we are supposed to ask for a recommendation. She just wants us to love reading like she does.

Yep, that about sums it up. Be a role model, set the expectation, make books part of your life, and make it fun. Sure fire ways to raise a family, or a community, of readers.
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