There’s a lot of controversy around how we teach reading to young students. Do we focus on independent reading? Do we teach whole-book instruction, with lessons that make that one book interesting? Do we focus on phonics and vocabulary and spelling?
I obviously have preferences as a Reader’s Workshop teacher. But, I do think that all of these methods have their time and place in the instruction of students in how to read. All of these methods teach our students the things they need to know about different parts of reading. Reading is a complicated skill to learn.
Here’s my top 6 of what I wish people knew about the teaching of reading (at least from my perspective):
- Kids, young adults – hey, even adults – want to read books that are interesting to them. Force a person of any age to read a book they aren’t really in to, and watch as they and that book stew for months with no progress. There’s no better way to kill reading motivation.
- Selection is ever important. Books are expensive, but the power of choice is very, very important. Go to the library.
- Every book that a student finishes does not need to be followed up with a summary, a book report, a collage, etc, etc. When’s the last time you as an adult finished a great book and desperately wanted to create a poster? I never do.
- Sometimes, a reader shouldn’t have to “prove” they read a book. See number 3, and, yes, I’m talking about things like AR quizzes. What a way to boil a book down to something extremely boring and pointless. I refuse to have my students do AR quizzes.
- Reading as homework doesn’t always work – but, kids should have a space and time to read quietly in school. Sometimes a quiet space isn’t possible at home. There are siblings, the family is doing things together, and the TV is on. If schools could provide more time and space for reading, it would go a long way.
- There’s no such thing as a book that’s too hard. This one’s a stretch for some people, so let me explain. If a student has a choice of books (I’m not talking about a class novel that is way above a student’s skill level), they are usually bright enough to pick a book that is not too hard for them AND that is interesting to them. If a kid wants a challenge will they sometimes pick out a book that’s hard? Sure. I read Anna Karenina when I was in the 8th. I didn’t get all of it, but it boosted my reading confidence and made me feel pretty awesome – and I really liked it. If I hadn’t liked it I would have, much like our students today, put it back. Also, when’s the last time you walked into a bookstore and walked out with Ulysses by James Joyce because there was no one there to tell you that it was too hard for you? Believe it or not, kids have the same powers of discernment – and they also need the space to develop that sense of discernment without adults telling them which color coded book to read.
It’s hard for adults to let go, but let’s give our students the chance to explore books and literature without any hand-holding and pressure. Give them a room full of books and the time to read. Trust me – I’ve seen complete transformations in many students (boys especially) who told me they hated reading, when they were given this chance.
Let them read!
*This includes any people: parents, teachers, government officials who think they know a thing or two about education…