This summer, I'm prepping for eighth grade ELA. I'll be heading to middle school. After buying TONS of new books for my classroom library, (I'm down to eating beans! ha!) and prepping for literature circles, there seems to be a looooooong discussion of what and how to teach reading. I've read many of the books, including but not limited to, books that share what happened in classrooms when teachers "let go of control" and "just let kids read", including the TONS of reading research.
Most teachers use their own personal stories of how they ended up hated reading and how they don't want to be *that* teacher that forces a novel, etc. (And yet, incredible teachers who LOVE Shakespeare end up getting EVERY SINGLE student in LOVE with Shakespeare still begs the question of choice)
Yes, choice is important. No one is denying that. But also the fact that alot of the students we teach today, don't know how to choose. I was an avid reader. But given my choices, my choices were limited to what I knew. Nancy Drew. Hardy Boys. Books that, given what they are, are really junk food.
Books have power. They feed our souls and fill our minds. I'm really beginning to disagree with the whole notion of "It doesn't matter what the kids read, as long as they are reading." Of course it matters! We can do so much better than that as teachers.
My story is simple. I went to public school up until second grade. I remember my mom taking us to the library, and I was reading chapter books. But in class, I was put in the lowest group because I seriously thought that's what I was supposed to do: Sound like everyone else. I remember quite vividly that everyone was such a slow reader, but since I didn't want to stick out, I made myself sound out the word cat as I read along. Not because I couldn't, but because I didn't realize that I didn't have to.
I ended up going to private school in third grade because the schools got so bad, and my older brother was getting beat up constantly in third grade on the playground. My parents worried for our safety, and took us out of the public school and put us in private schools. My world opened up. I couldn't believe that these kids read faster, asked questions, and had the same thoughts I had while reading! I found kids who read Nancy Drew too! And thanks to teachers who taught classics, I was introduced to amazing stories like Huck Finn, Jane Eyre, biographies and more. I went back to public school in junior high, only because it was getting expensive for a family of 5. But those years changed my life!
It only got more exciting in college. I found out that many of my peers knew authors I did not. When talking with them, I realized that the richer you were, the more you were exposed to since those schools explored more literature. I didn't realize that poetry was literally life changing. And I remember being in British Literature class thinking, "Why had I never been given a chance to even know these authors?"
Now as a teacher, I realize that many of the students are growing up like me. Poor. Limited Choices. They may not have a choice of which school they go to. They may just be reading what their social circle is reading. But I can bring books that lay a deep foundation of good ideas, powerful words and memorable scenes and characters. Books with truth, goodness, and beauty. Books like The Hobbit that showcase sacrifice, friendship and loyalty. Books like The Boy on the Wooden Box that show what it was like to survive World War 2. I'm not against the "junkfood", but I want to put a plate of steak in front of my students. So while I get the whole "As long as kids are reading" mantra, I don't agree with it. At least not if I'm the teacher.
I think we can do better. This summer as I plan, I'm making decisions to promote a love of reading. A healthy balance. Taking the wisdom of teachers, with research, and everything with a grain of salt.
Here we go!