Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding a Love of Reading Faster than a Speeding Bullet

I recently had the good fortune to get to attend a seminar where Rudy Giuliani spoke about the importance of every citizen becoming literate. What he defined as literate is not only reading and writing but stretching out into also being competent in digital age skills. As a profession, I think many educators are embracing this updated definition of literacy. As he continued to speak about the importance of reading, he struck on a thought on which I have been pondering since the beginning of the school year. That thought is that everyone should be reading two different things. There should be challenging reading and fun reading.

Now people that know me as an educator know that I've spent most of my career focusing on instilling in each of my students not only the ability to read well, but also the love of reading...just for fun. I have had numerous parents wanting to know how I have changed their students from one who used to hate reading, to one that they cannot keep enough current materials available for them to read in their home.

However, this year has been a totally different story.  I started to notice this difference about the second week of school. My students didn't want to check out any reading materials from our extensive classroom library. When they had a couple of free minutes and I suggested that they get out one of their fun books to read, they would pull out a textbook, open it up and stare into space. Then when we went to the media center, I noticed that over half of my class didn't check out any books.   The learners that did check out books had checked out drawing books that had no text.

As I started to investigate this, I found that I had almost an entire class that HATED to read. So I went to work, pulling out all of my tricks. I've always encouraged students to choose reading material that interested them, but the problem was they didn't seem interested in anything that would involve reading like students in the past. We read all types of genres and authors in our class; we used nonfiction picture books in content areas; we did read alouds and had book discussions, even with other classes using digital tools. I had tried all of these and many other strategies to no avail.

As I started pondering this change, I realized that these students' opinion of reading could have been shaped by their feelings for the scripted reading progam that we are required to follow (after speaking with several other teachers, they have noticed similar behaviors). The program is extremely prescriptive. We are not permitted to add anything to or take anything from the program. This group of students has been in the reading program for three years. It makes me wonder if this could be a, if not the, contributing factor.

As I continued to search for solutions to  helping each of my students find a love of reading, one of my students brought in a comic book. I noticed how much interest it generated from my students. I found them "secretly" trying to read the comic when they were supposed to be working on something else. A light bulb clicked on in my head. Maybe comics and other graphica could be the answer.

The next day, I pulled out a stack of about fifty comic books and laid them on the table. I didn't say anything about them being there, I just wanted to see their reaction. In a matter of minutes, I had kids begging to go through and choose several to read. Throughout the next four days, my students began having conversations about the different comics, discussing the plots, themes, characters, settings, problems, and making connections between different comics. Then, I was handed a list. Many of them had finished reading all of the comics and they had gone online and researched different comics and together had generated a wishlist for me.

Yep, they gave me a list of what they WANTED to read. A visit to the local comic book store yielded one hundred more comics...some on the list, some not. The owners of the store were not only knowledgeable on every comic in their extensive library making some excellent recommendations for my students, but also they were very generous and gave me a great deal.

The next day, when my students saw the bags of new comics and they started to go through them and pick their first round of reads, one student looked as me and said, "Mrs. Ramsay, this is better than Christmas!!!" Their classmates agreed. The excitement over READING comic books was tangible. Who knew that graphica could break down those obstacles and help my learners find a love of reading? Guess where I'm headed this weekend? Yep, the comic book store. I've got to build up that library.

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