As I was sitting on Pompano Beach last week I made a disturbing observation. I remember going to the beach as a kid and being told to bring a book for reading in the car, sitting on the beach, or sitting by the pool. My wife and I always look for a few good books to read when on a vacation. Our taste is different, but we share the love for reading. My disturbing observation on the beach was that we were alone. I assumed that it was just an anomaly, but noticed day after day nobody was reading on the crowded beach or by the pool. I saw many people taking selfies and texting on their mobile devices, but nobody lost in a good book. I cannot say that this observation was one I made due to my own curiosity. One do the books that I gathered for my vacation stash was “The Book Whisperer” by Donalyn Miller who can be found on Twitter at @donalynbooks. If you aren’t on Twitter please read my previous post “The Magic of Being Connected”. Her book was fantastic and has my highest endorsement, it was recommended to me by Todd Nesloney, @TechNinjaTodd. The book is written from the perspective not of a researcher, but a teacher who fosters the love of reading in her students.
The book details Donalyn’s journey of self-discovery leading to her success creating a culture where students are excited to read. I won’t spoil the details of the book, but all educators should read this one. The book did help me to further reflect on and examine reading practices in our school. My first epiphany was the importance of modeling life-long reading for students. Do we as leaders read and do we share what we are reading and learning? How can we expect students to get excited about reading if it seems we haven’t read since graduate school! Do we encourage our staff to read? Donalyn says that the average adult only reads 4 books per year. Where does your staff fall on this continuum? Modeling is crucial and I believe that educators should be the change we wish to see in our students.
Secondly, I realized the importance of allowing choice in student reading. When I reflect on my life as a reader I can think of many bad experiences. In Elementary School, I had a speech impediment and worried myself sick when we read aloud. Honestly, I didn’t learn a thing as the anxiety of speaking publicly kept me from paying attention and made me resent reading. Additionally, round-robin reading damaged my self-confidence and led to high levels of anxiety. This isn’t exactly what we are going for! Allowing students to independently read a text of their choosing and at the appropriate level seems to make a lot of sense. We all remember being forced to read texts such as “Beowolf” in High School. I distinctly remember suffering through the text so I could complete the activity. This is also not exactly in alignment with our goal of creating lifelong readers.
Finding out what our students enjoy reading and letting them have choice creates more work for adults, but I believe will prove worth it. Students will take recommendations from the teacher once they realize that the teacher understands and values their reading preferences. This will allow us to guide them and expose them to differing genres. I plan to build systems that allow students time to read a text of their choosing throughout her day. There is research to support that the mere practice of reading will actually improve reading skills. Next year, all staff members will keep a reading list and will share what they are reading. We won’t do book studies so staff can exercise choice just like my students. As Principal, I cannot ask them to do something that I’m not willing to do leaving me on the hook. I look forward to a year of learning where all staff and students far surpass the 4 book average of adults in the United States. I suspect it will impact achievement as well, but there is only one way to find out! Let’s make sure that the love of reading lives on in the next generation.