Friday, March 25, 2011

But books are so... enjoyable. Certainly students can't be learning anything from sitting around reading them all day.

I've recently had a few people ask me, in rather accusing tones, something along the lines of, "How do you know that your kids are learning anything in reading workshop? I mean, all they're doing is reading books.  How are you teaching them any skills?"

Oh ye of little faith.  How you doubt the power of giving kids permission to choose their own reading material rather than having the teacher mandate and suck any sort of pleasure or life out of the act of reading.

So let me enlighten you doubting Thomases.

A few days ago,  I was reading one my 5th grader's literature journals.  She wrote me a letter (a frequent required assignment in my class) about a book I had just finished reading aloud and to my shock and awe, I noticed that this quiet, shy, diminutive 5th grader used the word anti-climactic to describe the ending of said book.  Since when do 5th graders go around using the word anti-climactic? I think I had a difficult time with the concept of climax until I was in college! (I was slow to grasp abstract thought, what can I say?)

Then, I also had a group of 6th graders who were meeting in a literature circle (which was one of the few teacher-mandated reading experiences they've had this year) and one of them asked what genre the book was.  They discussed and debated whether it was a mystery or a science fiction because yes, there was something that needed to be solved, but it also had "elements of dystopia." (The book they were referring to was The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart).

I was both blown away and swelling with pride over these observations because these were not terms they learned in a textbook. This is just the way well-read students speak.  And when you give them the opportunity to read voluminously, they pick up the vernacular of an educated reader.

So you want to know how I know my kids are learning? I listen to them.


  1. I totally agree with allowing children to read what interests them! Back when I was young I hated reading, I struggled to get through books and didn't really want to try. Then I discovered The Sweet Valley High series. I don't know why I loved them so much, but they clicked for me and I would devour them. I would constantly go with my mom to our local used bookstore to see if they happened to have any more in stock (this is generally how I built my collection). Soon, you would find me with a book almost everywhere I went. Eventually I moved on from Sweet Valley, and I now read many genres, but I still attribute my current obsessive love of reading to that series. I read because I wanted to, and the books interested me. Fluff books created a life long reader who has read many of the classics by choice. It often takes simply finding what a child likes to read to light that spark inside of them! Three cheers for you and your Reading Workshop program!

  2. Chris, I sort of had the opposite experience as you. When I was younger I devoured books from the time I could read my first words. I loved to read and always had a book with me - until I hit high school. Teacher-mandated reading of difficult classics that I barely understood sucked the life out of any sort of love I had for reading. That love was gone until I was about two years out of college when I finally decided to start taking up reading for pleasure again - this time on my own terms, by reading children's literature.

    My own experience of being force-fed books that didn't meet my needs makes me even more insistent that more junior high and high school teachers start using a reading workshop approach so as not to kill the joy of reading out of any more students (and maybe even CREATE a love of reading in students who otherwise hated it before).