Nerd Out: Living the Life of a Reader
Can I just say I love the idea of teaching students to “wear a reader’s clothes?” Freaking. Love. It.
In our current Common-Core-standards-frenzied-insane-accountability times, it is very easy for us to lose our way and over-emphasize the teaching of skills, skills and more skills.
Let me tell you a ridiculous story from the days of old which may help to illustrate my point.
Picture it. My classroom. First thing in the school day. Twenty lovely little heads are bent, deeply engaged in their reading. The stars had aligned, the mood was right, the moon was only so high in the sky and all my friends had found a book they loved and were deep into loving it. At the same time. Yes, it was a thing of beauty.
In walks Ms. Cocktails Before Noon. (Remember her?)
Ms. CBN: What are your students doing?
Ms. CBN: What is their Do Now task? I see that you haven’t posted it. (She turns and indicates my blank white board upon which I am supposed to dutifully scribe an activity for students to complete each and every time they transition back into the classroom from another activity.)
Me: Uh, their Do Now task is to read.
Ms. CBN: What skill are they working on?
Me: I’m sure they’re all working on a number of skills depending on which book they are reading.
Ms. CBN: So no higher order thinking skill in particular?
Me: Well, if they’re all engaged…
Ms. CBN: (interrupting): How are they supposed to know what to do if there is no Do Now task?
Me: We always read first thing in the morning, so they don’t need me to write it down, it’s our routine.
Ms. CBN: And what’s the point of this routine?
Me: To enjoy reading. To practice their reading skills. To…
Ms. CBN: (interrupting again) How can I hold anyone accountable when there is no clearly laid out task that I can check up on?
Me: So is the Do Now for me, for them or for you?
I might add that I began writing “Enjoy a book” on our Do Now board each morning just to appease the Administrative Powers That Be to leave me the hell alone. I was told that “enjoying a book” is not a task supported by the standards.
And I shall pause as you pick your jaws up off the floor.
So, yes, I loved the idea of reading the clothes of a reader that Donalynn Miller puts forth in chapter 3 of The Book Whisperer. And I appreciate her acknowledgement that living the life of a reader involves a variety of behaviors and attitudes that must be explicitly taught and modeled by teachers. For example, how to use a library, how to behave in a library, how to carry a book with you, how to find places to read in your life, reading is a priority, reading is a pleasure and reading is something that is cool to do in public.
One of these key behaviors is stealing time to read taking a new, more positive spin on constant classroom interruptions and organizational nightmares, such as Picture Day. (You know how I feel about Picture Day. If you don’t, take a deep breath and click here, here or here.) “Replacing warm-ups with reading time and stealing as many stray moments as possible, I calculate, gains twenty to thirty minutes of reading per day.” Say wha? That’s amazing. I think a fun experiment would be to chart how much time your kids spend actually engaged in a book each day for a week. What did you find? Can you squeeze in more time? Steal any more moments or create/teach any new habits?
Another general comment that I think is important for us to reflect on is Ms. Miller’s unfailing positive view of her students and their abilities. Granted, girlfriend is writing a book and I’m sure has blown a fuse in the moment every once in awhile like the rest of us. Regardless, it is clear that she respects, loves and maintains a positive attitude toward each of her students. She writes, “Students rise to the level of their teacher’s expectations…” And again later, she states, “Building a trusting relationship with students is easier when you expect them to do the right thing instead of assuming that they are not.”
I couldn’t agree more. Some may write this off as utopian bullshit, but I think she’s right on the money.
Interested to hear what you all thought about chapter 3…please post your comments here or on our book club FB page (whether you read the chapter or not). Also, I think we’re going to pick up the pace a little. It might be a bit embarrassing and somewhat hypocritical if we only read one book a year!
Until the next chapter, stay nerdy, my friends.