From Every Book…. Learning the Pleasures of Being Literate {Slice of Life}

I wonder:    Who taught you the pleasures of reading and writing?  Did you discover them in high school? Earlier? Later?

High school student writing at his desk

In my high school Intensive Reading/Critical Thinking class, it takes a while to get students to ‘buy into’ reading for pleasure.  It’s not uncommon to hear, “You want us to read???” followed by:  Do we get a grade??

My classes are a mix of AP and Honors students who don’t use strategies (because they ‘know how to read’) and are insulted that they’re in my class, thinking they most certainly do not need to be, and struggling and reluctant readers who haven’t read for pleasure in years and have limited knowledge and nearly no use of reading skills and strategies or critical thinking.  They’re also insulted, because in spite of their limited skills and strategies, they’ll tell you they can read just fine and WILL graduate.

You can imagine how much fun the first six – nine weeks of each school year are for me.

Call me persistent. I plug away at showing them how ‘normal’ reading and writing really are.

I demonstrate the ‘naturalness’ of reading and writing every day. I share how I stumble on to new words in most things I read, I talk about current writing projects, and I find ways to tie the two together.  I tell them, “We’re always readers and writers. This is not about school. This is about life.”

I am Chief Learner, right beside them, never assuming to know it all, willing to show what I don’t know, and genuinely excited to learn new stuff……

This seems to alleviate some anxiety for some students, once they trust me.  But it’s a slooooow process.

Trust me.    Really.Slow.

In August, my reluctant and struggling juniors and seniors look at me like I’ve lost my mind, have three heads, am speaking a foreign language. Their eyebrows furrow, their arms cross defiantly across their chest, and an unknown power seems to pull some of them lower and lower and lower in the chair ~ as if swallowing them up so they don’t have to hear this nonsense.

You can almost hear inside some of their heads, (but thankfully, not!), “What is up with this lady? Has she lost her mind, talking about reading and writing like it’s something people do, something she expects US to do!?”

The AP and Honors students typically take out a book to read the first opportunity they get.  They seem to be thinking, “This might be the one saving grace to this class!”  The reluctant and struggling readers find this odd or just plain stupid.

Then September arrives. A few more books and magazines are evident on Wednesdays.

By October, most students have found something to read, even if it’s ONLY for the 30 minutes each week.

 

Girl on desk, reading
I encourage my HS readers to get comfortable…..

Sometime after October, though, the magic begins……

  • Mrs. Kyle, I’ve got a book on my phone. Is that okay?
  • Mrs. Kyle, I got a new magazine. Can I bring it Wednesday?
  • Mrs. Kyle, my friend told me about a book. Can I go pick it up from the Media Center?
  • Mrs. Kyle, can I borrow this book to take home and read?
  • Mrs. Kyle, I brought my e-Reader. Check out this book!

Finally, even the most reluctant readers find that treasure that makes me them sit still and just…. disappear for 30 minutes…..

Reluctant reader settles in for independent reading

With little time to read for pleasure and wanting so much for my kiddos to find that pleasure, I’m thrilled when all students, even the reluctant ones, find the sweet spot… that book or magazine that works just.for.them.

No longer do I have to babysit or ‘police’ Wednesday Reading.  I can actually sit back, enjoy my own books (while keeping half an eye on kiddos… just in case), and model my own love of reading, my own literacy. I often notice kids glancing up at me, as if to see if I’m really reading, too.

During a recent Wednesday Reading Day, as fifth period was coming to an end (and I closed my fifth book ~ I’m a grazing nonfiction reader) this thought popped into my head for Six-Word Wednesday….

 

Six Word: From Every Book....

 

I quickly jotted it down and in the last eight minutes of class, I shared it on the doc cam/screen.

I showed my kiddos where this thought came from:  the five books I had sampled that day ~ two books on my iPad/Kindle and three print books I brought to school, telling students, “When I get bored or distracted or interested in some other topic, I change books.”

Puzzled faces.

I often tell them, “As a nonfiction reader, it’s okay to close one (book, Web tab, magazine, etc….) and open another when things get…… well, boring.  “And, as a writer, I’m always finding interesting things in everything I read.”

I showed my Kindle library on the big screen and held up the three books I had been reading/annotating, flipping through pages so the highlights and margin notes were evident.  I explained that, as a writer examining other writers’ work, I liked the content of one, but not the writer’s voice and that I liked the layout of another, but not the content.  Students listened intently.

I pointed to my reading motto on the wall:   Life is too short to read boring stuff.   Read.Good.Stuff!  

A senior then asked, “Is Kindle free? How do you get it?” while another asked, “What’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction?”

Me {in my head}:  I’ve talked about – and demonstrated – the difference several times this school year, but apparently, you weren’t ready to hear the message. Today is your Need to Know Day.  Welcome to the Literacy Club.

Aloud, I once again briefly mention the differences.

“Thanks!” he cheerfully replies. “That helps.”

It’s amazing what we learn when we don’t assume what kids know and we teach them the pleasure of reading and writing… even when they’re 18 and 19 years old.

Join us every Tuesday and share a slice of your life at TWT.

7 Comments

  1. It can be so hard to explain to people the thrill we feel as teachers with such successes as you have described. It really exhilarating to know you’ve had some kind of positive impact on students’ lives. I’d love to sit in one of your reading sessions, Robin. They sound wonderful – and totally inspiring. But I know exactly what you mean about the first few weeks! I’ll bet you’re more than ready for the Christmas break.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Millie, yes, it IS wonderful, isn’t it? I’d love for you to join us! We love visitors. 🙂 Yes, ma’am, I am definitely ready for a little down-time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Eli, thank you! Parents’ feedback is always the highest compliment, knowing their children would be in good hands. You are SO right …. every path is incredibly different, which makes finding the right fit so important to me. 🙂

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  4. Eli, they will. I promise. Have faith. For some, it takes longer than others. Sometimes, my 18 and 19 yr-olds tell me that our time together is the first time they’ve ever felt hopeful. With the right environment and when they’re ready, they’ll each find their path.

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