When our children were young, we lived in Austria, which was light years ahead of the U.S. when it came to recycling. We had three bins in our pantry: one for cardboard or paper products, one for glass and the other for tin and metal. The trash can we put at the curb was one-third the size of the ones most Americans put out because there was so little that actually made its way to the landfill.
We stayed with relatives on our first night back in the U.S. At one point in the evening, our son was standing in front of the pantry with a juice box in his hand looking confused. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know where to put this. Where are the bins?”
Our son had embraced the habits of a culture that highly valued recycling. This anecdote speaks to the power of procedural memory, which teachers can leverage to model practices for kids on how to become independent, agentive readers.
We know that our students need to read more, taking ownership of their own reading lives, but, where to begin? It starts with setting the example of a rich, personal reading life. When kids come to class and hear their teachers talk about the books they are reading, practice choosing genres and topics that interest them and become part of a community that shares great texts, kids begin to form their unique reader identity. These repetitive practices, along with a text-rich environment, combine to develop procedural memory around reading. In no time reading can become a predilection for every child.
Develop Yourself as an Avid Reader – And Share Your Excitement With Students
I’m sometimes surprised at the number of teachers who say they don’t read much themselves. We have to nurture our own reading lives so we have the skills to coach students toward developing robust reader dispositions. In my almost-three decades, I’ve seen first-hand that teachers who love to read and seize every opportunity to talk about great texts are the ones who inspire kids to read.
Teachers who continue to grow (and share about) their own reading lives show kids the procedures for developing habits and characteristics of an ardent reader. And sharing your love of the books you read will help your students to start to feel excited about reading, too.
There are creative ways to share your book love with students:
- Book talks are powerful. Penny Kittle and Donalyn Miller both preach the power of giving kids a quick overview (without spoilers) of books the teacher has read, followed with an alluring excerpt.
- Other teachers I know post pictures of book covers from books they’re reading. Some even post a daily account of pages they’ve read.
- Ask kids for their book recommendations and then read those books. This gives you insight into what’s valued by your own students and it validates that they have reading preferences that are worthy of exploration.
We also want developing readers to know that we abandon books and that it’s OK. I’ve shared the good, the bad and the ugly experiences I’ve had with books over the years because I want kids to know that not every book is a good match for every reader. I also want them to know when I fall crazy in love with a series or a certain author. Personal anecdotes of my obsession with characters or my fascination with nonfiction topics are a daily part of conversations with the children and adolescents in classrooms on the campuses I’ve served.
Students need to see and hear and know how much you love reading before you can initiate them into the fraternity of bibliophiles. Make every effort to nurture your own book love.
Provide Plenty of Choice
So much has been written about how important it is for students to have freedom to choose their own texts. Disempowered readers are disinterested readers. When we trust kids to select books they are interested in, we silently assure them of their power and agency. If students are in the daily habit of making choices about what they read, we are facilitating the influence of procedural memory.
We bemoan the fact that students don’t read outside class; they won’t read at home or over the summer months. Why would they? They haven’t had time or opportunity during their school days to exercise that all-important skill. We cannot expect kids to independently become proficient at something we rarely support during their 180 days with us.
Here are some tips for assuring students experience frequent book “binges”:
- When kids are reluctant to commit to any book or seem stuck on a certain series or can’t seem to venture into other genres, display stacks of books with compelling topics and titles for them to look through.
- Create curiosity for new or unknown books by displaying them on shelves labeled “coming attraction” – and make those shelves off-limits for a few days to build interest.
- Invite older students or other adults to give impromptu book talks.
- Provide time for students in the class to booktalk texts they’ve read so classmates get recommendations from their own peers.
With plenty of practice scanning shelves for books they want to read in the supportive environment of your classroom, students will be well-prepared to search out and lose find themselves in books they’ll come to love all on their own.
Nurture a Community of Readers
Seth Godin’s book Tribes contains powerful truths that can easily be applied to our profession:
“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” (Godin, 108.)
When we take time to intentionally foster a community of support firmly rooted in the values that grow readers, everyone benefits. Here’s what it might look like in your classroom:
- Give kids a space to thrive; create an environment that’s rich with texts; and facilitate discussions around characters, topics, and themes.
- Empower students to find their voices and grow their convictions by reading and challenging themselves. This involves mentoring students on how to listen to peers and form their own ideas about what they’re reading.
- Commit to creating a safe place for every child to rehearse what they’ll try on their own.
How can we hold students accountable to read and explore great texts outside the classroom if we never set the conditions for them to practice toward independence? Whatever we’re hoping they’ll someday do on their own (with unbridled passion and persistence) we must facilitate daily in our classrooms.
Be an avid reader yourself. Provide plenty of choice for all students. Lovingly nurture your community of readers.
Simple steps. Promising outcome.
Godin, S. 2014. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. New York: Penguin.