About five years ago, I adopted a new approach to reading instruction. I read books by Nancy Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Donalyn Miller and completely changed my approach. Not only did I begin to develop a classroom library, but I learned how to use it to inspire readers.
For 10 years (prior to Atwell, Kittle, and Miller), I just told kids that they should love reading but ultimately did nothing to promote that love of reading. I thought that I could inspire them through the whole class novels we read. I taught them everything they could possible know about characters, theme, setting, and plot in The Pigman, Lyddie, Zlata’s Diary, My Brother Sam is Dead, and more. However, I did not create independent readers.
When I began approaching reading as a fun activity, I was first met with resistance. It was obvious to me that many of my students lost their love of reading around 4th grade and had made no effort to get it back. Technology and video games took on a greater importance to them than reading.
To rebuild their reading interest, I began showing book trailers (look on YouTube) for some of the more popular YA novels. I began reading passages from novels. I began talking incessantly about the books I was reading. I boasted how many books ultimately become movies. I purchased book after book to create an appealing classroom library (my husband keeps threatening to cut me off). Most importantly, I devoted 20 minutes of class each day to silent reading time. I call it DIRT (Directed Independent Reading Time).
To be honest, it didn’t take long to convince most of my students about the benefits of reading. I was somewhat surprised how quickly I was able to get them on board. The greatest moments of my day are sharing book recommendations with my students and sharing stories of reading success. They feel so accomplished when they find “that book” — you know, the one that forever changes them as readers. Today, I am met with groans of protest if we lose DIRT to delays or pep sessions (anything that might shorten class).
Some of my more stubborn students took longer to “buy in” to reading. I can’t deny that each year I have a few students who never fully develop a love of reading while in the 8th grade. I tell myself that they read at least 3-4 books (just during DIRT in class) throughout the course of the school year that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I also hope that perhaps my reading “push” will come to them later in life.
While many teachers do not believe in reading logs, I use them. I have found that my middle schoolers respond to the concrete nature of logs. They love seeing the total number of pages and books they have read each nine weeks. It is something tangible for them. It also helps them generate new reading goals for themselves. (Logs are not graded)
Start reading with your students as soon as you can. Don’t wait. You won’t regret it.
How have you helped to inspire students to read? Share your ideas.