Monday, May 5, 2014

Slice of Life - Fake Reading

Slice of Life is sponsored on Tuesdays by Two Writing Teachers. For the month of March we are posting a slice each day on our blog. Join in!

We’ve hit the time of year where I am competing for my students’ attention. Baseball and softball seasons have begun. There are practices, games, tournaments. The sun is up longer, the days are warm. Their bicycles beg to be ridden around town with friends, shouting above the noise of the street. My students look at me and I know that visions of summer dance in their heads. They have June 3rd circled, the countdown begun. I know this countdown too - twenty days, if you are curious – but also know we need to finish strong. That’s why when a student talked to me about “fake reading” the other day, I took it seriously.

We have two state award lists that we read from in fifth grade – the Bluestem and Rebecca Caudill. Our school librarian offers prizes to kids who read certain numbers of books. My final tally for this year is due this week. When I was grabbing the binder that I use to keep track, a student mentioned he “heard” that last year a fourth grade student said she read all of them, but had truly only read the backs. He and I had a great discussion about fake reading as a result. Leaving his table, I thought about it. Do some kids fake read? Absolutely. Unless I can confer with every single student (of which I have 80) every single day, there are days that kids report that they read, but probably didn’t. I’d predict that the number is pretty low, but decided to talk about it with my students and see what discussion resulted.

The next day in class I simply asked, What is fake reading? Each class came up with a list of what they considered fake reading. Then we talked about why someone would fake read instead of simply reading. I loved this. Not only did the typical reasons come up –

Too busy.
Don’t like the book.
Forgot to read last night.

But other reasons as well –

The book is too hard.
Picked a difficult book to impress friends.
I hate reading.

My higher students were floored. That happens? The conversation became one of education – how some students feel when they struggle in reading. My stronger readers were completely confused. Didn’t everyone realize that picking hard books will make it harder to grow as readers. They proceeded to teach each other, sharing their lesson about how to grow as readers and even book recommendations for when they are looking for a quick read. Many things I have said – repeatedly – were brought up from my students. And, I have to say; I think they listen more when it comes from their peers.

Finally, I shared this video from Penny Kittle

The kids were shocked that some high school students went their first THREE YEARS of high school and read two books or less total. Even some of my readers that struggle a bit sat up a little straighter. They had all passed that number in October.

When we were done, I asked why they thought I wanted them to be readers. After a few kids volunteered some answers, I told them –

I inhabit a world of books. When I was younger – their age – it was my books that kept me company when middle school drama grew to be too much. It was my books that I took with me to college to read when I was homesick. Those stories, those characters, those “friends”, never failed me. They brought me home. When you are a reader, you are never alone. You can travel the world, learn about others, and learn about yourself, all from the comfort of your bedroom.

I am firmly convinced that readers live more than others – we live our own lives AND live through the pages of books. We become empathetic as a result of the stories we inhale. And, when you meet other readers, quick friendships develop.

So yes, of course I want them to read because it will help them as students. It will make the game of school so much easier for them. But truly, I want them to read because I cannot imagine my life without books. And while my favorite books might not be for every reader, I am absolutely convinced that there is a perfect book out there waiting for each and every one of them. It is their key to this world I inhabit. And I encouraged them not to waste time fake reading, but to dive in because everyone is welcome here.

Twenty days are left with this group of students I have grown to adore. Twenty days left to convince them to set aside a bit of time in their packed spring schedules and continue to pick up a book. Looking at my own calendar, it is full to bursting. I’m running from one thing to the next each day. But, when I slow down, when I listen to my students, conversations stop me and fill me up. I’m so glad I did the other day. This was a conversation we needed to have. And we only have twenty days to make that impact that will last a lifetime. Will they become readers for life? I hope with my entire heart that they do.