Last year, I cultivated my own reading life by reading books for myself. I spent precious hours entertaining myself with books. I purposely did not pick up professional texts to better my teaching or new middle-grade books to introduce to my students. I did this with a mixture of joy and sadness.
This summer, I let go of the sadness, because I am noticing the reader I am and growing toward. That thing we ask our children to do today and every day.
I’ve noticed that I drop or miss read beginnings and endings of words. Sometimes missing words completely. I catch myself because it doesn’t make sense. Is this a new thing? Something I do when I’m distracted or tired. Probably I have always done it. Perhaps it’s a reading disability I work around. How has it impacted my understanding?
I’ve noticed conversation with skilled readers adds joy and understanding. Talking with my son about Anna Karenina made me realize Tolstoy’s craft. How he seamlessly shifts the character voice. Reading alone, I didn’t notice the craft. The conversation not only added to my understanding of the work but my reading skill set.
Reading mindfully takes the push of a skilled teacher. By looking through the lens of 180 Days by Kittle and Gallagher, I have had a teacher by my side. Attempting to do what they ask of their students, I have noticed the scattered nature of my thoughts as I read and the need to write about the text to be able to pull it together more coherently. Tracking my thinking as I read or write about a core idea, how a character’s decision has shown their values or supported a big idea is not second nature. It takes specific expectations and dedicated time.
Reading with others is a pleasure, an art, and an act of trust. Bringing something to a group is like bringing food to share. You hope it will be appreciated and you hope other contributions will make the experience complete. By welcoming wonderings and ideas, a group can create an interesting whole. But, this is a complex and vulnerable act. Something I have not acknowledged when I put readers together in class.
Reading should be simultaneously joyful and mindful. Readers need to notice what the book is offering and what the reader is doing. This balance is one we as teachers of readers need to explicitly teach. The joy and mindfulness need to be taught and accountable. Taught because we are always growing reader skills; accountable because everyone needs to be reminded and supported. This work is not second nature. If we’re honest, many readers, even the most competent, read for plot. To reach beyond that takes a push.