A post from Vicki Vinton got me thinking and wanting to work through my thinking in a public space. I am grateful for the need to write with purpose.
A friend once said she couldn’t define the type of reader as was, as in what kind of books I like. I had to agree with her. The books I loved were all over the place. This quiz I found on Vicki’s blog, defined me in a way that made sense. My highest score was as the aesthete, the type of reader who treasures a writer who can take the ordinary and make it profound. This score was followed closely by the endurance reader, one who has no problem with sweeping sagas that span multiple generations. That’s a reasonably good definition. But I believe I would not have been defined in this way decades ago.
As a younger reader, I gravitated toward escape novels and books that reflected who I was and what I was struggling with. Over time, I consciously sought books that presented people and places with stories that were vastly different. I wanted to look into other worlds. Over time, what attracted me changed. Was this because of experience, and how much of this change was because of my reading life. I like to think it was equal parts. I want to believe reading can change our reflection.
How this translates to our young readers is also on my mind. I don’t have an online quiz that would define my students’ preferences. That’s my job.
Last week, M– asked me during an engineering competition,
Can we have no homework if we win?
What homework do you have?
That’s not homework. That’s just what readers do.
M– It is to me.
A– was listening in. Reading isn’t homework. I do it anyway.
This wasn’t a surprise. A– reads everything and anything.
A– and M– have the same running record score.
So why does M– see reading as an assignment, while A– sees it as what she does. And I’d say who she is. More importantly, what can I do as their teacher to get M– to see reading as A– sees it?
So I asked him.
Do you always feel that way about reading?
M — Not during read aloud.
How is that different?
M — I’m not reading.
But you are doing the thinking of a reader.
He was not convinced.
So I asked more.
Aren’t there books that you read that make you feel the same way as a read-aloud?
M– Fantasy. Like the Land of Stories.
So this has to do with the type of books you read. Not reading in general.
M– I guess.
Perhaps our student’s perception of reading and our perceptions of our students as readers need to be reframed. Seeing M– and A– as similar readers because of their running records scores would be a disservice to both of them. I’m not concerned about A–. But M– needs a lot more of what he loves as a reader.
Later, I check in on the students who have yet to finish a book they chose last week.
K– I don’t really like this book, but we’ll finish it.
Why? I ask. I have a book like that now, and talking to you makes me realize I just don’t like it. I’m not going to waste any more time on it. And, you shouldn’t have to keep reading something you don’t like either. Don’t waste your time.
Really. There are too many books to read. Do you know what it is about this book that you don’t like?
K– It’s slow.
We talked about those “slow” parts and why they are in books. Why they are necessary. But as younger readers, they may lack patience for them even if they understand why they are there.
K– handed me the book, gathered his group, and they choose another.
I’m not worried about K– as a reader. He knows what he likes, and he reads without being asked. I am more concerned about his perception of school and reading. Just because he chooses a book at school doesn’t mean he loses the right to abandon a book. Time is precious for all of our readers.
Finding out who we are and who our students are readers as readers require more than a test Be it of interest or skill. We readers are on a journey that evolves as we do. This is the beauty of reading, and the opportunity presented to teachers of reading. To introduce and expose our students to stories that they want to read and as well as stories that may change who they are as readers. To get students to see it is their right to abandon books, to honor their tastes and interest, to allow them to see themselves as readers.
As my students pick up their books, I am looking for what keeps them reading. Not because it is homework or because someone recommended it, or even when they chose it themselves. But because it fills and feeds them as a reader right now.