Back in September, I wrote about my school’s goal to build a better reading culture. For me, this has prompted an important transformation in my classroom, but also in my personal reading life. As I’ve been faced with what to say to my students who complain that they “just don’t have the time to read,” I’ve heard all-too-familiar echoes of my own reading mindset. Glancing sheepishly at the ever-mounting pile of books I’ve been meaning to read (some of them for years), I knew I was going to need to step up my own reading game if I wanted to help students become more regular readers. We all have more time than we think. So I gave it a go. More reading. More plans for what to read next. And, crucially, more publicity about my reading life with my students.
It’s the ripple effect of that last thing that has really made me hungry for more reading. Every time I finish a book, I tell my students about it. And then, like magic, they want to read it. And then they do. And then they talk to me about it and pass it on and more students read it. It still blows my mind that the simple fact that I personally enjoyed a book makes students pick it up. But it makes sense when you think about it–young adults are thirsty for the knowledge of “what’s good?” They are hitting the point in their lives where they are cultivating taste–for music, for style, for art… and for reading, if we catch them fast enough and care hard enough about the fact that they do. Young adults want to see what older adults see, and experience the things they experience. What better way for us to indirectly offer our insight than through the shared experience of reading a book?
Ruminations aside, here are some quick tips for keeping the fire of reading aglow in your classroom.
* You are the master reader. You must show others how to make time to read! I find the time mainly while I’m waiting for things. In the age where every man, woman,and child mindlessly scrolls their SmartPhones every moment they are waiting for an appointment, a meal, a flight, an oil change, a prescription, a person, or really anything at all, it’s easy to forget how much of that time could be spent with a book. I try to carry whatever book I’m reading with me, or have it in the car at the very least, so I can spend my life’s idle 20 minute spurts absorbed in the written word. I also read with my students in class all the time, every single week. It’s important to make, and use, the time. Students notice, and will do the same if you are vocal about it.
*Make your reading recommendations public and visible–set up some ads on your chalkboard or whiteboard and watch the books disappear like magic! My colleague Mr. B keeps a giant version of his “next list” with titles and authors up on the chalkboard and checks them off as he goes. My version of peddling my recent reads to the masses is simply putting a book up on my chalkboard ledge, and then drawing a big, catchy slogan for it. Something like this:
Sometimes I put up three new ones in a single day. I just leave the ad up there until a student grabs it… and one always does!
*Use Goodreads to share reviews on social media. You can always simply share what you’re reading verbally… I’ve been trying to start more conversations both inside and outside the classroom that start with “What have you been reading lately?” You learn so much about other people and their perspectives through sharing impressions of books, and you get to share a lot about who you are at the same time. This is why I like Goodreads, and recommend it as an extension of those conversations. Yes, writing a review does take more of that elusive time, but it’s a way to share your reading experience with others that has potential to interest, inspire, and invite them to share as well. Here’s what the top of my Goodreads “My Books” page looks like…
(If you’re a Goodreads member, come friend me–my username is “Ms. H.” with the pink bromeliad icon!) I like that my students and friends can look back at my whole reading history, and I can do the same with them, getting an idea of their tastes, browsing for things that I might like, and seeing what they thought of each title. It’s just one more way to spread the reading love.
Happy New Year one and all! One of my goals for 2015 is to keep reading more. I’m off to a good start–every book I got for Christmas is already finished. I can’t wait to get back to school to ask my students what they read over winter break. 🙂