Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tell Me a Reading Story #SummerSeries

Last week I accepted Lee Ann Spillane's challenge on the Portable Teacher blog to post about summer reading during September and October. I started early! Today is my second post in the challenge. 

This week I asked students to "tell me a story about your reading life." I invited students to consider their summer reading, to tell me a story about the moment they lost interest in reading, or to tell me how I can help them rediscover a love of reading. 

I can't assess my students on their required summer reading because we don't have a summer reading mandate for the students I teach. We do, however, mandate reading (and lots of tasks based on the required reading) for students taking honors and AP classes. I'll write more about that in a later post. 

For now, I want to tell reading stories about my students. 

After they completed the quick write, I asked students to share their responses. Getting students to share their writing this early in the year is often difficult, but as they began to read their responses, a common theme emerged: For many students the nail in the reading coffin has been hammered by Accelerated Reading programs. 

One student shared his frustration with AR points and how he was driven away from reading for pleasure by AR mandates. Happily, the student also shared that he discovered The Fault in Our Stars, which made him cry--both times he read the book.  How wonderful to hear a senior boy admit that a book made him cry. Other students echoed this young man's reaction to AR. 

Reading their reading stories also reveals my students' love of fantasy. One student wrote that reading 

lets you escape into a whole new world, which is also why I love fantasy. Fantasy books have a new world every time you pick one up, which is just amazing to me.

Among this student's favorites: The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Eragon, Harry Potter. 

For others, a busy life crowds reading to the back of the priority list. One student wrote about loving reading as a child and finding pleasure in "turning the crisp pages" of a book. She credited her mother and the weekly trips to the library as instrumental in her reading life. Now, wrote the student, homework, school activities, her job, her social life all edge out reading as priorities. 

The story of my students' reading lives exists in the realm of Once Upon a Time. Once upon a time these young people loved reading. Once upon a time they turned to reading for escape and enjoyment. Once upon a time AR, for many, taught them that points mattered more than their reading preferences, and they learned to game the system. Once upon a time, life's responsibilities took over and pushed reading out. 

There can be a happy ending. One student wrote about loving reading as a child, learning to dislike reading via AR, being put into study hall in seventh grade and having no homework, which prompted the teacher to send her to the library for a book to read. She read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and later read A Child Called It. Now the student is reading The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner, a book from my classroom library. 

This student's reading story is moving toward Happily Ever After, and that's not a fairy-tale ending. 

This week's book talks w/ links to my reviews: 

We Were Liars by e. lockhart

Skinny by Donna Connor

Caged Warrior by Alan Sitomer

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park


  1. I love that you linked book talks here too! What a great idea. I remember when I told my son I would slay the AR dragon on his word. He was near tears on the day he "qualified" for AR and he worried he could no longer read what he wanted to read. I knocked out that worry but he didn't want me to opt him out of AR. At his school students set their own point goals and are required to test while supervised by a teacher. I've always felt that he sets unreasonably high point goals. In the middle school teachers use AR as a means to an independent reading grade. Though 34 points is an A this year, Collin set a point goal of 80 for the first quarter (it's the lowest goal he's ever set, a concession to his Algebra I homework). He's a rule follower and on this field he likes to compete. I don't begin to understand it. He reads much, much more than he tests, but he's definitely figured out how to game the AR system so that he ends up on the leader boards. Too many kids though are demeaned and damaged by such a system. Thanks for writing about it this week and for sharing your students' stories--such important work that is.

    1. I'm trying to do a #BookTalkaDay and started posting these on Twitter w/ the hashtag. I'm checking TBR lists, too, and will eventually turn the book talks over to students and present my own periodically.

      I've been having some honest, heart-felt conversations w/ students about the college reading they will face and ways they can increase their reading outside the school day.

  2. As I read your students' stories, I started hearing my own stories as well! I think the things that happen to your students happen to all of us (especially those of us who have chosen to live our lives in school). I get assigned reading that I trudge through and it slows me down. I am occassionally pulled away from my reading my a hectic work week (I haven't read my book in a week now). Once in a while I even choose a social life over my reading. But I always come back to reading. September and October are always hard reading months for me, but then I get to November and NCTE & ALAN pull me right out of that. The anticipation of meeting with friends sends me diving into books (preparation), and then all of the new books we get make it hard for me to do anything else for several week.

    I really think the conversations you're having are more effective than any tests or projects they might do. That's one reason I like the idea of summer reading - a common discussion topic immediately at the beginning of the school year.

    1. "come back to reading." I love this as a theme.
      I had a conversation w/ a colleague today about his summer reading. He was expressing confusion about the number of kids who dropped his AP lit class. He assigned "Great Expectations" as summer reading, but he read for pleasure. I know I don't want my supervisor telling me what to read during my summer vacation.