I want my students to fall in love with books and discover all the worlds that open up to them when they choose to read. Sometimes I worry that even the most well-intentioned classroom practices can do more harm than good. I struggle to balance my desire for kids to just read for enjoyment with the school’s demand for data and accountability. I share my classroom library with students. I get to know my students so I can recommend books they might enjoy. I talk with my students about what they read. I ask my students to write about the books they read on their blogs. I ask students to list each book they finish on a reading log with some basic information–title, author, genre, number of pages, and a number ranking.
Twice each grading period (once at midterm and again at the end) I go around and ask students how many books they’ve read. I add up the totals for each class and overall. I get really excited. (Just ask any of my colleagues whom I’ve rushed with my iPad to show off–Look at how many books my students have read so far!) I’m excited, but am I causing more harm? Do I turn more kids onto reading or off of reading with my classroom practice? The first day of school I challenge each of my students with a 40 book reading goal for the year. Most of them think I am crazy. As the year goes on and the books read pile up, some of them realize that they will not only make this goal, but they will blaze past it, too.
At this point in the year, some students start to get worried. ”What will happen if I don’t read 40 books by the end of the year?” they ask. I offer to supply them with books over the summer. Then I have conversations like the one that occurred in class this afternoon.
“Ma’am, I have an honest question.” This student always has an honest question, usually more than one each day.
I looked across the room at this student. ”When you have an honest question, it usually means you want to get out of reading.”
He ducked his head and grinned. “Yeah, that, too, but I have a question. I’m not going to read 40 books by the end of the year. What’s going to happen?”
I stood next to him and asked, “How many books did you read last year?” This is the question I always ask when students worry about not reading 40 books. There’s nothing magic about the number 40. It’s just an audacious challenge that pushes students to do more than they dreamed possible. The real goal is for students to read more than last year. If I’m lucky, many of them will fall in love with books redinading, too.
“Two or three.” As his friends shook their heads, he sheepishly corrected himself. ”None. When we h ad to do a book report last year, I read the first few pages and last few pages and skipped the middle.”
“How many books have you read this year?” was my next question.
He didn’t have to look at his reading log to answer. ”Almost eleven.”
“Did you really read those eleven books?” I hoped he would give me an honest answer.
“Yea,” he answered. ”You made me read.”
“You went from reading zero books last year to reading 11 books this year? I think that’s quite an accomplishment. I’m proud of you.”
Why wouldn’t I be proud of him? A student who finds reading a challenge and who has spent much effort into getting out of reading in the past has persevered to complete 10 books and even bought the book he is currently reading. He may not admit to enjoying reading, and he may never love it as much as I do, but I hope he can take pride in what he accomplished in reading this year. I certainly do.