Surprise! Students Read!

Our school has a huge number of students with very active reading lives! I thought that most students only read books when they were required to do so for school, and a certain amount of that reading was “enhanced” by SparkNotes. It’s not true. We have many, many, many, many students who enjoy reading, talking to each other about books, and hunting for their next good book to read.

Why did I have this misconception? Several years ago we had a school-wide “silent sustained reading (SSR)” program. It died a miserable, ugly death. Many students and teachers looked for ways to not do the program. This year, several teachers have introduced SSR dimensions to their individual classes, and in every case, it’s working extremely well. Students who have never read books are doing it and finding it rewarding.

It’s no big secret that our school’s English Department and numerous other school personnel read Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. That books explains how schools are killing a love of reading in four specific ways:

– Focusing on test preparation skills at the expense of reading instruction

– Overteaching books and sucking all of the life and joy out of them

– Assigning books that are irrelevant and too difficult for the students

– Not providing authentic reading experiences

I’m guilty of all of the above, but my eyes are open now. I’ll do better.

Another book has also influenced my thinking about students’ reading habits: Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. Miller is a sixth-grade teacher in Texas whose students read at least forty books a year and consistently exceed state standards in reading. Her students all do the same assignments, but they never read the same books. Her approach is highly successful in developing lifelong readers. Sixth grade and high school have obvious differences, but Donalyn Miller is on to something, and her ideas deserve consideration at the high school level.

I’m also inspired by Daniel Pennac’s “The Rights of the Reader”:

1. The right to not read.

2. The right to skip pages.

3. The right to not finish.

4. The right to reread.

5. The right to read anything.

6. The right to escapism.

7. The right to read anywhere.

8. The right to browse.

9. The right to read out loud.

10. The right not to defend your tastes.

If we can somehow find ways to encourage students to exercise these rights, we will take huge steps in developing a culture of readers in our school.

So, to all of you readers, congratulations. You’re doing yourself a huge favor by finding time to read, reflect, and talk about books. You don’t have to be underground about it. There are a lot of you. If some people think you’re wasting your time, it says more about them than it does about you. Keep going.

If you’re a student who hasn’t yet found the book that lights your fire, let’s see what we can do about that. It’s not too late. We’ll gladly help you find a book that suits your tastes. Take a look at for some suggestions. Talk to your school or public librarian.  They exist to help you find books.

For any parents who happen to be reading this: Please help your sons and daughters get books in their hands that they will enjoy.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome.

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