At my house, we are readers. Both my hubs and I have matching kindle fires. We read all. the. time. #forreal. Sometimes, if we REALLY like what we're reading, we might be reading at the table at a restaurant before we order, instead of looking at the menu. Yeah. We're THOSE people. <chagrined look, shrug>
Just recently, my dear friend Tammy Wathen from the Resourceful Apple wrote a really heartfelt post about her challenges with getting her youngest--now a middle schooler to read.
|Click HERE to read her post.|
The fact is things have really changed. I started asking my husband about his experiences with reading as a child that contributed to his love of reading and he shared some pretty insightful things with me. He can't remember actually the process of learning to read, but he remembers the first time he read a chapter book that gripped him. Here was our exchange on this topic.
Me: What is your first reading memory?
Chris: <without pause> Reading Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in third grade.
Me: Did the teacher read it to you?
Chris: Uh...no. <affronted look> I read it to myself.
Me: <starts looking up the book level on Scholastic> That's a pretty high book for independent reading in third grade. Do you know the book level?
Chris: No, what's book level again?
Me: It's how high the book is. It's a 5.9. That's almost a sixth grade level!
Chris: Really? <stunned, then proud look> I didn't know that. It was a popular book with the other kids, so I read it.
Me: Why do you think you ended up liking it?
Chris: I think probably because it was about chocolate and candy.
There's a lot here in this interview that I exposed that I think is part of the problem with getting boys to read. I'm hoping we can dive into some of that today. I am a child of the 90's, but a teaching product of the 2000's. I'm data driven, and as clinical as a surgeon about how I craft units and lessons for my students that are both interactive and engaging. I'm what people would think of as a 'good teacher'. Here though, you see that Chris and I were not on the same page at all. He was talking about enjoyment of reading, and I was light years ahead of him in looking at book levels...and thinking about how his teacher was able to achieve that...blah, blah, blah. For him, and his 8 year old self, it was just about a boy who liked reading about quirky characters and chocolate because his classmates liked it and suggested it. It's not earth shattering or profound. So, we as educators need to figure out where we lost a generation of 'Little Chris' and get him back.
This is HUGE!
Often times, we discount things that are wierd, gross, strange and ridiculous as 'babyish' or 'not rigorous' enough for a student to engage with. I humbly submit that we are making a mistake there teachers. Let them read the stuff they LIKE! So what if it's the fifth Minecraft book. So what if you're tired of Nate the Great? They are READING. Chris reads all KINDS of different things now, but that progressed over time, and was HIS CHOICE. He doesn't ever recall a teacher telling him that his book choices weren't appropriate. He just remembers that they gave him lots of access to books and lots of time to sit and get into them. He even remembers his fifth grade teacher reading aloud to him! For at LEAST a half an hour a day!
Chris grew up in rural Minnesota. He loved reading books about boys and their dogs. He loved reading books about boys living in the outdoors. He said that when he read, he could imagine himself as the boy having adventures. Here were a few of the books he mentioned reading independently that he connected with.
Never underestimate the power of positive peer pressure. Kids like to share in the positive experiences of other kids. What systems do you have in place for students to share books that they enjoy reading? Maybe in a kindergarten class, it can be a photograph of the book cover and some small tags with the kids names. They can put their tag on a book that they recommend. Students can speak with them about why they like the book during centers. Older students can write book reviews. I remember when I taught third grade I had a pocket chart system where students could endorse books. The kids liked it!
As children get older, teachers tend to spend less time reading aloud because there is so much that they have to do that seems 'more important' than reading to the kids. My husband said that one of the things he recalled that he ENJOYED about school was read aloud time. It introduced him to authors that he didn't know. It gave his brain a chance to thing about something other than work and he loved it. Even in fifth grade!
Give boys lots of opportunities to investigate all different types of reading genres. They will invest in books that matter to them. This is not to say that we shouldn't teach reading strategies, but if we give students lots of opportunities to read after modeling good reading...they will start to find things that they want to read.
Remember that today's boys are much more distracted than boys from 20 years ago.
Help boys find exciting books about topics that they are invested in. Ask your brothers, your husbands, your uncles what books meant something to them as a kid. Start there. Then move forward. Building a lifelong reader takes time.