Readers are Created, Not Born

We are all born without knowing how to read. It is a skill we must learn. And how do we learn most skills? We see others doing and we emulate. We make mistakes and we grow. As soon as we can hold a book, we begin imitating those who have read to us. We pretend to know how to read before we can read. We “fake it ’til we make it.”

Very few kindergartners will say they dislike reading. But, at the other end of the educational spectrum, high schoolers are quick to admit a deep dislike for reading and anything associated with reading. How do we go from being ready to try it before we can actually do it, to fearing it to the point of shutting down as soon as a book is placed in front of us?

To emulate, we must see it happen. Sadly, I have known some houses that do not have a single book inside of it. There are children being raised without knowing what a library is, let alone where it might be located. There are children who’s parents can’t read them to sleep, because they struggled with reading to the point of shutting down and calling it a “stupid waste of time.”

I often wonder how many parents end up regretting not being able to read their children to sleep. I think back to when my two girls, both in their teens now, were little and how much I enjoyed our story times. I would drop almost anything to read to my girls. I would cringe when MiniQ would ask me to re-read Cinderella Skeleton AGAIN, for what seemed like the millionth time, but I would never forgo it, because it was a book she loved.

I write this, because I know the power of books and reading. I was reminded of it again today. It is day two of school, the first full day on a regular schedule, and I always start my year off running. I don’t spend days one and two going over an endless list of rules or a syllabus. It’s ineffective, the kids tune out, and frankly, it never ends up doing much in the way of making things work more effectively or efficiently in my room. So, I get the kids busy on day one.

Today, I did a Book Browse. There are cooler names for this activity, but for the life of me I could NOT remember any of them today, so Book Browse it was titled. I had placed 4-5 books on each student table, which seats two students. With no direction except–1 book, 3 minutes, silent reading–I told the kids to pick a book and read it. After three minutes they wrote about their first impressions–did they like it, did they not like it, what sparked their interest, what stood out to them–and always, always, always EXPLAIN why! We did this for three different books.

Today’s class is almost exclusively boys and most are self proclaimed NON-readers.

The outcome:

  1. Every student had read at least ONE book that sparked their interest enough to possibly want to read it.
  2. Every student had read at least ONE book that they had STRONG opinions about.
  3. Every student read, silently, for three minutes each time.
  4. Every student took the time to write reflectively about their reactions to what they read.
  5. Every student eagerly spoke about something they had read to someone else in the class. Normally, when teenagers have a moment to write and not have to listen to the teacher, they begin the off topic chatter. Not this group. They wanted to talk books.

A few comments overheard:

Nope, I can’t do it. I cannot read another sentence of this book.

When I walked over to the young man in question, I asked him to show me the book. It was the second book and I assumed he just didn’t want to read anymore. Never assume! It was The Road to Oz and I told him how The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of my all time favorite books. So, I asked what he meant by “Nope, I can’t read another sentence.” His reply,

The narrator knows too much. There’s no figuring out what the characters feel or think, because the narrator is telling us. It’s no fun.

Holy Buckets Batman! This is exactly the kind of thinking and discussing I long for teenagers to do and here this young man goes, doing it BEFORE I even require him to do it. Be still my heart!

And, normally this would be an oddity, but today’s class was FULL of this kind of thinking and discussing. Another young man pointed out how he got lost in the first paragraph of the second sentence. When I asked why he read it to me, it was from a Greg Iles book. The sentence in question used the word car, for an elevator. Because he had no experience of hearing or using the word car to describe an elevator, he was lost. And he knew it! The importance of vocabulary, anyone? He has provided me an authentic entry point to why vocabulary is important and what to do when we are tripped up by it.

So many more conversations took place and the kids are engaged and reading and discussing. I ended a very stressful (for other reasons) day in a moment of joy and happiness, because I have them hooked. Many have already requested one of the books they read today as their first independent reading. We did so much more during this full day and every minute counted!

I plan to do the same thing tomorrow and can’t wait to see the results.

Let me know what you think!

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