Thursday, October 16, 2008

Don’t Forget the Daily Blessing

“Blessing” books is the term I’ve adopted to describe the practice of getting kids excited about books by telling something about them. It’s when you hold up a book and say, “I was just looking through my books and came upon this one (showing Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing). I got so excited when I saw it because it’s an old favorite. My third grade teacher read it to me when I was a kid and I remember being disappointed every time she closed the book because I loved it so much. It’s about a boy named Peter who has a pesky, yet very funny, little brother. If you like to laugh out loud when you read, you will LOVE this book. What’s great about it, too, is Judy Blume went on to write more of these books so if you read this and like it, you can read Superfudge, Fudge-A-Mania, and Double Fudge. Let me read you this one little part to give you a flavor of what it’s like…”

Twice this week alone teachers have shared stories with me about how the time they took to bless a book affected their students’ book choices. One teacher told how the kids watched vigilantly as she placed the just blessed book back in the library. She told how they scrambled to be the first to read it. Another teacher told me about blessing an easy book which inspired a struggling reader to put away her hard book in exchange for an easier one knowing that in this classroom, it is okay to read titles that appear a bit simple.

In order to make good book choices, kids need to know what’s out there. We can’t expect children to try new genres or authors or series if nobody ever tells them they exist. Blessing books is a quick and easy thing to do and the impact on young readers is immeasurable. The two minutes it takes to talk up a book may be just the push a child needs to read for ten or twenty minutes…or, if we’re lucky, influence their reading for days and months to come.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Book Choice – Too Much Too Soon?

If you work with children in grades 2-6, book choice is a hot topic. Teachers at these grade levels spend a lot of time helping children make selections that are just right and teaching strategies for making informed choices. However, we sometimes need to question if we push too hard too soon.

I recently had the experience of facilitating a teacher training course on Reading Workshop. One of our activities was to explore a range of adult titles and decide which ones we would be interested in reading and which ones we would pass on. One of the teachers in the course picked up one book and said, “Nope, I’m not reading this one. The print is too small.” She picked up another book and said, “Gosh, I would never get through this. It’s way too long.” As a sophisticated adult reader, nobody questioned her motives. Her reasons for not reading these titles were perfectly acceptable to each person in the room.

Fast forward a few days to independent reading time at home with my third grade son. He is a capable reader whose first choice of pastimes is not reading. He always gets the “do I have to?” look on his face as I kick into high gear as the reading teacher mommy. I want nothing more than for him to be excited about books. So I gather those titles I know he’d love if he’d just read them (and the ones I know are perfect for his reading level): Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, Jigsaw Jones. He takes a Magic Tree House book from the pile and looks to the back of the book. “How many chapters is it?” he wonders out loud. Reluctantly, he begins to read. I peek in on him a few minutes later and he’s rolling around on the floor with a book in hand. He’s reading, but barely.

A few days later, he stops by my office and starts flipping through some titles I have lying around. Curious, I step back and observe and can’t believe what I see. He comes upon a Berenstain Bears title. He picks it up and he starts to read! He is so interested and engaged, he is reading as he walks out and when I say, “you can read that for reading homework tonight,” his eyes light up with disbelief and clearly, he is happy. More than that, he is eagerly reading.

As he leaves, I am left wondering what prompted this transformation and I realize that the book he chose for himself was colorful and short. He knew when he picked it up, he’d be able to finish it— his process was very much like that of my sophisticated adult reader friend. What’s more, that Berenstain Bears book was a level M—just right for him.

Looking back, I question why I didn’t offer my son shorter texts as an option for his independent reading. As I thought about it, I realized that it is not uncommon for us to want to push kids into reading chapter books when we know they are ready; however, the question begs, if we push too hard too soon is it at the risk of turning kids off to reading?

This was an important lesson for me both as a reading teacher and a parent. I know that my son won’t read Berenstain Bears forever, but, if that’s where he needs to be today, I need to respect that.

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