Monday, August 2, 2010

Do Not Read Past This Title Till Next Tuesday

When I met with my colleagues last week who were busy preparing a workshop on reading partnerships and book clubs, a very thought provoking question arose: When kids set their assignments for literature circles, is it okay to say, "AND DON'T READ ON!"?

Teachers have good reasons for saying this. Their biggest concern is that early finishers will spoil the ending for those who haven't finished reading the book. Then there is the fear that the details of the book will become fuzzy for kids who read too much too soon calling into question the quality of their contributions to group discussion. Then, of course, there are those who issue this dictum merely because it seems to be the intuitive thing to do. When you read a book with a partner or friend, you read at the same pace.


Book partnerships and clubs are meant to mimic the reading behaviors of sophisticated adult readers. For years, people have been gathering to talk around books that they are passionate about. It is both stimulating and deeply gratifying to come together to discuss our thoughts and questions about a shared reading experience. Talk helps us to achieve new understandings and insights about the text being read.

This summer, I have been meeting with my study group to discuss Anne Goudvis and Stephanie Harvey's Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement (Amazon affiliate link). Each time we meet, we set a goal for the number of chapters that we'd like to read before our next meeting. I like having a goal. It disciplines me to make sure that reading is a priority. But, if I were to read on, I think I would be equally prepared for the conversation. And my group wouldn't be mad. Granted, if this book were fiction, I'd know the ending before them. But, as a sophisticated adult reader, I'd know better than to reveal the surprise.

Thinking about my own book club has really helped me rethink the "Don't read on" rule. I think it sends a very mixed message to kids to communicate in one breath that they need to read a lot and then impose limits in the next. If we are worried that kids will forget what they read and won't be equipped to make intelligent contributions to the discussion, we need to teach them how to track their thinking and how to prepare for book conversations. And for those worried about the "spoiler," that too comes back to good teaching. Instead of simply solving the problem by saying, "Don't read on," why not say instead, "Today our mini lesson is going to be the problems that can arise when book club members read ahead..."

What do you think? Should kids be able to read to the end? Or, are there other reasons why kids should stay together with the pack?

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