Reading Changes Lives. Period

If children need to learn vocabulary, they should read.

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If they need to develop fluency, they should read.

If they need to learn about a topic, they should read.

If they need to be a person they are not, they should read.

If they need to write, they should read.

If they need to grow, to stretch, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to find a friend, to vanquish a foe, they should read.

One Sure Way to Create Reluctant Readers

When I finish reading a book, I want to think about it and talk about it, and then I want to start reading my next book. Never have I closed the covers, sighed, and said to myself, “Now, now I want to make a Venn Diagram.”

Yes, I know the value of scaffolds such as Venn Diagrams. They do help us think about how particular information is like (or not like) other information. And at some point, showing students how to make one, as a way to think more deeply about two characters or two books or two issues, is probably a good idea. If I had to write a review of a book and I knew that review was going to be published, I might sketch out a Venn Diagram to make sure I wasn’t missing details regarding how Atticus in Mockingbird varies from Atticus in Watchman. Maybe I’d do that . . .

But honestly, when I finish reading, I don’t rush to draw those overlapping circles. I mull over what I’ve read; I find a friend who has read the same book; we talk about it; we turn in the text to favorite passages; we find where we agree and disagree; we reread sections that meant a lot to us or were confusing; we talk about how this book helps us understand something about ourselves, others around us, or the world. We talk about the questions it has raised. And when that’s all said and done, then I hunt for another book. I don’t finish one book and rush to make a diorama, complete a dialectical journal, or make that Venn Diagram. I didn’t do any of those things one time this summer. Not once. Actually, I didn’t even think about doing those things. I just read more books.

Already, barely hours into this new school year, I’ve seen the assignment that requires all students in one sixth grade class to complete a journal entry each night after reading for thirty minutes. This journal entry must include a short summary, a rating (with a reason) of what was read that night, and a Venn Diagram. All students. Each book. Each night. A summary. A rating. A Venn Diagram. As someone who loves to read, I can’t think of a worse assignment. And if I were someone who had not yet discovered the joy of reading, this would convince me I never wanted to give this thing called reading a try.

For folks who want to read more about what we do to discourage reading and encourage aliteracy, you might want to read and discuss a chapter I wrote for a book titled Into Focus: Understanding and Creating Middle School Readers. The title of the chapter is “Choosing Not to Read: Understanding Why Some Middle Schoolers Just Say No.” It’s a summary of several years of research I did on the topic, and it also references several other studies on aliteracy. You can find a similar chapter in When Kids Can’t Read/What Teachers Can Do.

And to the parent who asked me what my response would be to her sixth-grader’s reading assignment, my response remains: “Just say no.”

Motivation

I often discover what’s popular long after everyone else. I found West Wing during season four. I just discovered The Good Wife. And, a couple of weeks ago, I came across the Meghan Trainor music video hit “All About That Bass.”

To be honest, I found that song because of the brilliant riff by some high school kids titled “All About Those Books.”  That song sent me in search of the original.  Now, with both lyrics in mind, I find myself humming “It’s all about the bass/books” all the time. And those lyrics set my mind in motion: what is _____________ all about?

No surprise, I fill in that blank with the word “education.” What is education all about? I answer that with it’s “all about the kids.” That’s it. It’s not about a test. Not a blue ribbon. Not racing to the top.  It is all about the kids. When we lose sight of that, well, we simply lose.

And when I think about kids, about helping kids discover all they can be, all they are meant to be, then I find myself thinking one word: motivation.  My colleague BobProbst and I have been researching this concept a lot, first when we wrote Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading and now as we finish our forthcoming book, one about helping kids read nonfiction.

We’ve been sharing bits and pieces of that new book about nonfiction on my Facebook page and Twitter site for a while and teachers have asked for a couple of those posts to be shared in another format since a lot of schools still block Facebook. (Yes, in 2015 some places are still blocking sites teachers have access to at schools. I think we might need “It’s all about some trust” tunes. But that’s another post.)  So, here are the posts previously found on Facebook that are shared together because they are both about motivation and that’s important because school is, after all else is said and done, “all about the kids.”

 “All About the Talk”

If we want to get kids thinking, we need to get them talking. Research shows that all too often the talk we encourage in classrooms is a result of the questions we ask and all too often those questions are monologic in nature rather than dialogic.  Monologic questions are those questions in which we already know the answer:  “Who is the main character in The Giver?” Kids say this isn’t a real question because we aren’t seriously searching for an answer. We’re just checking to see if kids know the answer. By contrast, when we ask, “What most surprised you in this section?” kids know we don’t know that answer; consequently, that question is viewed as authentic.

Does this mean we shouldn’t ask monologic questions? Absolutely not.  Monologic questions are great for reviewing facts. They aren’t great for encouraging conversation, speculation, or critical thinking. I use them all the time in workshops and classes at the end of the lesson/workshop to make sure vocabulary and concepts have stuck (or at least been remembered for 15 minutes!).

This chart that Bob and I developed summarizes a lot of research and is meant to just help us see some differences between talk that is to check understanding (monologic talk) and talk that is to create understanding (dialogic). You can read more about the research in Notice and Note in the section on talk.

Talk Chart revised jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a PS to this section on talk, if you haven’t read Ellin Keene’s brilliant book Talk About Understanding, add it to your must-read list.

“All about the Reader”

A few weeks ago, on Twitter I posted the typology (below) that comes from some of the earliest work I did on motivating reluctant readers.  This research showed up in my dissertation, and then in articles I published and later in When Kids Can’t Read/What Teachers Can Do.  I think the term “dormant reader” was critical to my developing understanding of kids who appear to not like to read.  This typology was an important reason, I’m sure, that I received an AERA award years ago and it continues to influence much of my thinking today.

If you want to read more about this typology of readers, check out the articles listed at the bottom of the chart or see the chapter on motivation in When Kids Can’t Read.

Aliteracy Motivation chart jpeg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But it’s really ALL ABOUT THE KIDS

I have often posted on Twitter and Facebook that want-ability is probably a more important concept when it comes to matching kids to books than readability.  After recently reading a great article in The Atlantic that connects interest to difficulty (the more interested you are in reading a topic the more willing you’ll be to struggle through difficult prose), I had to both nod and laugh. I nodded because I agreed. I laughed because The Atlantic thought this a new enough concept to publish it. But brilliant colleagues Penny Kittle, Teri Lesesne, Jeff Wilhelm, Donalyn Miller, Alfred Tatum, Ernest MorrellNancie Atwell, and a host of others have written about this for a long time.

If we want to create lifetime readers, we have to think more about connect-ability than readability. When we do that, we’re putting kids first. And that make sense to me because I’m all about the kids, ‘bout the kids, bout the kids. No kidding…

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Lifetime Reading and Series Books

Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Little House on the Prairie, Hardy Boys, Narnia Chronicles—these are a part of my reading history.  My daughter would say The Baby-Sitter Club Books and the Boxcar Children.  My son would say all the Animorph books, Harry Potter, Narnia, and of course all things L’Engle.  And I bet if you’re a reader you can name your series.  Perhaps you were hooked by the Beezus and Ramona books; or was it Encyclopedia Brown?  Dear America books?  Redwall?  Take a look at the series books listed at Goodreads and I bet that somewhere in that list, you’ll find a series that makes you nod your head and say, “I loved those books.”

That seems to be the power of series books:  we love them.  And because we love them, we get lost in them; we turn page after page; we wonder if Nancy will escape from the hidden attic even though the fact that the next 5 Nancy Drew books sit beside the bed is a clue she does.  Perhaps it’s the comfort of knowing the characters that makes them so enjoyable.  Perhaps it’s the cliffhangers at the end of each chapter that make us need to stay up for just one more chapter.

If you’re looking for information on the importance of series books in the development of lifetime readers, the go-to source is G. Robert Carlsen and Anne Sherrill:  Voices of Readers: How We Come to Love Books (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1988).  Though this book is hard to find, it’s well worth your time to read.  In it, Carlson and Sherrill show the strong correlation between series books and lifetime readers.  He makes a similar case in Books and the Teenage Reader .

Other sources—some sited below—continue to make the point that no one becomes a lifetime reader without discovering a joy of reading, an intrinsic joy.  Almost always, one step in that joy is the reading of series books.

So whether your series was Harry Potter, the Dark is Rising, Frog and Toad, the Prydain Series, the Madeline books, The 39 Clues, the Ender books, the Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Borrowers, The Lost Years of Merlin, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the Wizard of Oz, Curious George, George and Martha, or…well, you fill in the blank, those books made a difference in your lifetime reading.  As summer comes, here’s hoping many other young readers will find delight in those books that make us want to stay up late and keep reading.

“A Fresh Look at Series Books”

Motivation: Going Beyond Testing to a Lifetime of Reading

The Mystery of Nancy Drew

Catherine Sheldrick Ross, “If They Read Nancy Drew, So What? Series Book Readers Talk Back,” Library and Information Science Research (LISR) vol. 17, 1995, pp. 201–36. This research won the American Library Association’s research award in 1995. A shortened version appeared in School Library Media Quarterly, Spring 1996, pp. 165–71.

1926 American Library Study of over 36,000 students sheds some light on series books and reading. Reported in: Only Connect, Sheila Egoff, G. T. Stubbs, and L. F. Ashley, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 41–61.