Reading for Pleasure
English teachers, primary school teachers have been banging away at this old chestnut for years. Reading, we’ve been told, provides kids with a better chance at academic and social success. It improves vocabulary, increases knowledge base, and makes them better at relationships. It makes them better writers and better speakers. A magic bullet for the ills of academics.
How the heck do we get them to read? The solutions say the experts, are easy: woo them. Bowl them over with how great reading is. Our librarian is excellent at buying in books that interest the students. Our S1’s have a successful reading open house. Live Lit vouchers are spent on bring in wonderful authors like Cathy McPhail and Alan Bennet. I read as much YA fiction as can and enthusiastically recommend to my pupils. It doesn’t seem enough.
Worryingly, I’ve had students that have announced with pride that they have never finished a book. At our school in S1-S3, we have silent reading for first five minutes class and we’ve embedded it into our curriculum. My biggest problem was getting the older kids to take it seriously –some really liked it, but a chunk of them would pick up book one day, change the next. Too many of them would not bring a book and would mock the ones who do. Parents sing the same refrain: “He doesn’t read enough” and, “she used to read, but now not so much.”
Perplexingly, despite this reluctance to read, almost all kids love having stories read to them, and I’ve seen even the most reluctant reader mesmerized by a story read-aloud. One of my favorite things to do with a class, when we are tired and fed-up on a Friday, is to turn out the lights and read a story from “Nasty Endings” With this packed curriculum these days, it happens too infrequently.
However, it was discussion with a parent brought another part of the puzzle to me. Last parents’ night, I was delivering my usual spiel about how reading was so important and how we had to make time to read. This one mum got it: “It’s a habit. We have to create time for it. Maybe we have to make time to read as a family. I mean I always say I want to read and I never do because I’m busy. Maybe we have to set aside a time as family where we all read.” And that is just it: reading needs to become a habit.
Acquiring a habit is actually just the act of instilling self-discipline. There are lots websites that help people instill self-discipline. It involves making a plan and doing it over and over and over again. In some places, it suggests that it takes at least 40-50 repetitions to create a good habit. While this might seem like the antithesis of the suggested wooing, I think that we don’t do our students any favours by letting them avoid silent reading. It’s hard work becoming disciplined, but the results are worth it.
So, in my classroom, this is what I’m doing to instill the habit in five minutes a day (+ one library period every three weeks). I insist that they stick to one book — a book that they can live with for five minutes a day. I have them write in their reading journals every day: two sentences; two minutes. A total of seven minutes. I’ll check these every few weeks to make sure that they aren’t chopping and changing books. Those that are struggling to read one book consistently will have intervention. I’ll involve parents if I have to. I’ve been doing this for two months now
Anecdotally, it’s going well. Most students are on their second book. I’ve had a few interventions with students and have them reading high-interest, quick reads to start with and then move on to more challenging material. Start of class routine is embedded: Folders out, reading journals out, books out, Read. When the time goes off at five minutes, they automatically write the two sentences.
I’m still going to woo them. I’m going to read excerpts of good literature. I’m going to enthusiastically recommend books and I’m going to get them to talk about the books they are reading. If we truly value reading for pleasure, then we have to be committed to making it happen in our classrooms.