I’m about two thirds through Penny Kittle’s latest, Book Love.
This book helps me to identify the mismatch between what I hope for my students as readers and what is actually unfolding in my classroom.
A lot that is good is unfolding in my classroom. But this window into Kittle’s classroom ups the ante.
About two and a half years ago, I remember announcing to my seniors on the first day of school that they would read at least ten books for my class that year. They looked at me like I was crazy.
And I was–I realized once we got through the first semester that the five books per semester expectation was something very few of my students would hit.
I do this sometimes–set sky high goals only to have my students show me that a goal might need readjusting. Something that we would do together.
But this ten books in a school year goal–it wasn’t that the goal was too high. In fact, many of Kittle’s students read three times that in a school year.
It was that I didn’t do anything to actually help them get there.
We start each semester reading a book together and then my students choose books to read on their own, that interest them and that will help with their thinking toward their big projects for each semester. All of this is good. Since each student determines the direction of each student’s big semester project, the reading that students do toward these projects is totally guided by their own interests. This is all the right context for students to read and read a lot.
But giving students space to choose what they read is only the beginning.
What I’ve learned from Kittle’s book is that I need to help my students build measurable reading goals by understanding where they’re at with their fluency and speed as readers. I’ve learned that I need to make reading and books even more of a central piece of my classroom practice with book talks to give them possibilities of what to read and more focused work with the books in their hands. I’ve learned that I need to be explicit with my students about the reading required to be successful in college–200 to 600 pages per week depending on the school and course load. This may terrify my students but I know that with a few changes in my pedagogy, I can help them get there. I’ve learned that I need to engage my students in regular conversations about their reading–conferences are not just for teaching writers. Readers grow through the individualized instruction possible in conferences too. Kittle’s book re-emphasizes the absolute link between reading and writing, something I’ve always talked about with my students but haven’t structured my classroom around as explicitly as I can (and will now). I’ve picked up more language for arguing to my students the importance of reading and why it’s critical for them to establish and continue to build their own reading lives.
And perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned I need to walk the walk and work on my own life as a reader.
For the last three years, I’ve been keeping track of every book I’ve read. I have a moleskine address book with a separate section for each letter of the alphabet. I list books alphabetically by author last name, include the date I completed the book, write a few thoughts about it, a heart in the margin if I really loved it. I love flipping through these pages to see evidence of the books I’ve read, each making me a stronger human being and stronger thinker.
I count up titles conquered for each year. Twenty four for 2012. I was fairly happy with that. That averages two per month and it was three more than the twenty one I read in 2011.
But then I saw in Kittle’s book an image from her own reading list from her writer’s notebook: “142 total for 2011” she wrote at the end of her list for December of that year. Each month had 10 to 12 titles listed that she had read. How exactly she reads this many books I am not sure with as busy as I know she is. I’m busy too, and I thought I was reading a lot.
In all honesty, I’m likely reading more than the average American adult, but clearly I can read more. How can I possibly expect my students to have a more rigorous reading life if I don’t myself? So I will. Starting now.
That means less time on Netflix. Less time on Facebook. Earlier to bed more often so I can actually get in an hour reading before my eyelids make it impossible.
And to keep myself accountable to my students, I’ve set up a blog to chronicle my reading life. There’s a prominent link to it from each of my class web pages. And we’ll take a look at it frequently in class so I can lead from my own reading life.
I’m looking forward to the journey.
And for now, off to bed (early) to read.