Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Celebrating Readers

Blaming readers is in vogue these days. Boys don’t read. Reluctant readers resist reading. Struggling readers give up because the task is just too hard for them. When we label readers in these ways, are we perhaps communicating our own frustration more than the actual situations?

Consider what happens on NEA’s Read Across America Day (official site - ReadWriteThink Calendar Entry). Read Across America Day, celebrated on March 3, 2008, celebrates reading and encourages every person, young and old, to read on the March 3rd and every day of the year. As the site’s FAQ explains

In cities and towns across the nation, teachers, teenagers, librarians, politicians, actors, athletes, parents, grandparents, and others develop NEA’s Read Across America activities to bring reading excitement to children of all ages. Governors, mayors, and other elected officials recognize the role reading plays in their communities with proclamations and floor statements. Athletes and actors issue reading challenges to young readers. And teachers and principals seem to be more than happy to dye their hair green or be duct-taped to a wall if it boosts their students’ reading.
With all this support and encouragement, why do we still have readers who don’t or won’t read regularly? What makes an event like Read Across America Day different? Why can it be difficult for all students to celebrate reading every day?

It has a lot to do with how we treat readers. The January 2008 English Journal article “Speaking My Mind: Don’t Blame the Boys: We’re Giving Them Girly Books” by Kevin R. St. Jarre argues that “it may not be that girls naturally love to read more than boys do. It may be the reading lists”(15). The reading curriculum, according to the article, favors emotional and reflective readings (texts for girls) like Go Ask Alice and Speak over action and adventure (texts for boys) like the latest Tom Clancy novel. The article concludes that when “we allow students to select what they will read . . . we can encourage reading where there is currently none” (16).

In her recent NCTE webinar “When Kids Won't Read, What Teachers Can Do” (access to the archive is free), Teri Lesesne (blog, school page) explored how the covers on books appeal to different kinds of readers. Her presentation considered how the cover images on the books encouraged or discouraged readers to pick up the book and read. Naturally we have stereotypes about what makes a cover for boys or a cover for girls, and our thoughts may ignore things like readers’ gender identity and personal interests. The point still stands though: readers have strong preferences that guide their reading and lead them to engage with a text.

When reading centers on student choice, students are more likely to read. Events like Read Across America Day work because they highlight everything that is fun about reading. Readers are encouraged to share and read the texts they love. If every day in the classroom were like Read Across America Day, my hunch is that reading would improve. But in a world of compulsory readings and curriculums decided by textbook publishers, teachers face many challenges. What seems like the most obvious challenge however, readers themselves, is probably the least of our worries. We need to stop blaming the readers and let students help us find“the right book for the right reader at the right time,” as Teri Lesesne says. Maybe then classrooms will be filled with celebrating readers every day—and the reluctant and struggling readers will be a thing of the past.


max said...


I grew up as a reluctant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mysteries, especially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at http://www.maxbooks.9k.com and my Books for Boys blog is at http://booksandboys.blogspot.com
Ranked by Accelerated Reader

Thank you,

Max Elliot Anderson

Gary Anderson said...

One of my favorite motivators for my sophomore classes of 30 students is The 100 Books Challenge. Students read whatever books they would like to read, and as they finish, they give a brief book talk and write the book's title on the 100 Books poster in the classroom. When they hit 100, we have a party.

My reading counts toward the 100. Why not be a role model? Students get ideas for good books from each other. (The hot books this year include the Stephanie Meyer Twilight series.) One or two readers set the pace by reading several books, but everyone reads at least one or two books.

Without the 100 Books Challenge, the vast majority of these books would go unread by these students.

For more information, feel free to contact me: Gary Anderson, William Fremd High School, Palatine, Illinois glanderson@d211.org

Let me know how the 100 Books Challenge works for you!

Lee Ann Hoffmann said...

As a Middle School Reading teacher turned coach, I have these conversations with teachers daily. The idea that we all read what interests us is no different for students. Teachers are very unaware of what young adult literature is available. It is our responsibility be aware of what authors are writing for our students just as doctors should know what pharmaceuticals are available for their patients. As educators, we should educate ourselves on what our students interests are, what genres they navigate towards, and what fiction and nonfiction text is available to meet those interests.

Stacy Goldberger said...

Reading is such a personal activity, and in school we tend to overlook the experience of the reader to such a degree that we often breed a dislike of reading. I have to agree with Lee Ann Hoffman's comments about having a better understanding of our students and what they enjoy. Furthermore, we need to incorporate self selected reading into our classroom and become readers of young adult literarue ourselves. Gosh, my 8th graders have a selection that did not exist when I was an 8th grader in the early 1980's. So much of what is available to them is wonderful!

Stacy Goldberger

Anne Puliafico said...

While I still have some reluctant readers, more of them are reading and loving it. Some of the books we read are done as a whole class, but the students are always independently reading their own selections. Offering boy "type" books and fun books such as Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise helps some of our reluctant ones to find something of interest. Then they stick to the same author for a while.
We also have 100 charts where they complete a square with the title of their latest read and their name. After the first 100 books, we have a snack party. After 500 books, we order pizza for a read and eat party. Peer pressure works wonders for sluggish readers.

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