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Morning talk time before class starts, Katie at my desk. “I have good news and bad news, Mrs. Mueller.”
“Ooh – I want the good news first!”
“Okay. The good news is that I made a reader out of my mom this year!”
“That’s so awesome, Katie! What could possibly be the bad news?” I lament, my brow furrowed.
“Well, she’s taking all my books!”
I smile broadly and chuckle. “Oh no. That could be a problem!” I commiserate, and she grins and walks back to her desk to grab a book.
Pulling up chair to read aloud corner, waiting for others to get situated. Michael chats with me. “You know something I would’ve never done before this year?”
“Hmmm….what?” I brace myself. Why are we pessimists sometimes?
“I read every night in my bed for an hour and a half!”
Whew! “That’s awesome! You would’ve never done that before this year?”
“No way. I thought about it a few times, but didn’t really have anything I wanted to read.”
“That’s so cool, Michael. That makes me happy!”
Transition time, moving from desks to computers, Susan sidles up beside me. “I can’t wait for summer.”
“Oh, I love summer, too! What are you looking forward to most about summer, Susan?”
“Well, reading of course! Lots of reading! I wasn’t really a reader last summer, but now I am, so I want lots of time to read.”
Sigh of satisfaction and delight. “Susan, I am so happy to hear that! I can’t wait to have more time to read, too!”
Parent at meeting. “Jamie has always been more of a math person until this year. We were in the car the other day, and he just said, ‘Reading is my life now.’”
Parent e-mail after two weeks of school. “Two weeks in and I'm already thrilled with this newfound love of reading in Kaylee- and I already thought she liked to read! I've seen such a change in her already. Thanks!”
What happened in my class? I teach high readers – readers who have qualified as gifted in reading with a 95th percentile on a screening test. Readers who began reading at an early age. Readers whose parents said they liked to read. Readers who wanted to talk about what they’re reading. Readers who knew how to read. Readers who may have come to fourth grade having read the entire Harry Potter series – up to seven times in one reader’s case. However, somehow many of these kids were coming to class without a passion for books and/or a way to read deeply and widely. Without the experience of a teacher who reads as voraciously as they want to read, they weren’t necessarily joyful and courageous readers. They were kids who hadn’t necessarily talked or written in depth about their reading or belonged to a passionate reading community.
I believe they found what they were looking for in a teacher who surrounded them with books written by amazing writers. One parent stopped me at the public library and said, “I think she caught ‘the reading bug’ from you.” This was a girl who everyone knew was a gifted reader and was happy to read. Well, she was, but she wasn’t “turned on” by books yet. Her mom was waiting for that to happen and finally it did. It’s not rocket science. Books are my passion, and I pass that
passion on to my students. Just because someone is gifted at something doesn’t mean they will love it. A passionate mentor needs to come alongside to open up possibilities.
This didn’t always happen in my classroom. I’ve always loved books (I have my B.A. in English Literature, after all), but I didn’t always read as widely or voluminously. I enjoyed trying to match kids with books, but I had a limit to the number of titles I knew and frequently taught whole class classic children’s novels. A couple years ago I read The Book Whisperer and was taught the value of expecting kids to read a large number of books during the school year. I was skeptical. I was reading mostly adult fiction, several professional books, and probably only 5-10 children’s books a year. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to even recommend that many titles, or actually convince kids that they wanted to read that many books. But once they were challenged, I was challenged, too. An amazing community of teachers was brought to my attention at a Dublin Literacy Conference several years ago that helped in the endeavor, also. Franki Sibberson, in particular, opened my eyes to social media and its role in exchanging ideas, book recommendations, and exposing inspiring classrooms. Twitter, Goodreads, and Facebook are full of authors and educators who have a passion for readers and learners and want to share that excitement. I had to catch “the reading bug” too, and that has made all the difference.