by Lynne R. Dorfman
We know that one of the ways we can help our students become lifelong readers is to provide choice and book titles that are engaging. A wide variety of genres and authors that are housed within our classroom collection for quick and easy access is important – absolutely essential. But perhaps the most important factor is the teacher. More specifically, the teacher as reader. In our classrooms we need to demonstrate our own reading processes – the strategies and skills that good readers rely on to make sense of a text, to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the author’s craft. When we examine our own processes, we can start to understand the complexity of the reading process and the reading difficulties our students may encounter. Only then can we begin to appreciate the hard work their students do every day to grow as readers.
As we share our own reading journals or logs, or as we share tidbits from an article in the latest Atlantic or National Geographic or a moving description about the weather in Newfoundland from The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, our students have proof that we are readers outside of the school day. We are models of what we are asking our students to do – not because they are offered extrinsic motivators such as a pizza party or some other prize for reading so many pages each night for a period of time as part of some contest – but to read to learn more about ourselves and our world, to travel to places we can only visit through the pages of a book, to complete us intellectually, emotionally, and even socially, and to deliver through story an unparalleled ability to foster empathy. When we share what we are reading with our students, we are demonstrating what it means to have a true reading identity.
Having a reading identity means we are motivated to read and learn new things. We view reading as an activity we can choose as recreation. We view reading as a social activity – we want to talk about the books we’ve read with others – share what we’ve enjoyed and talk about what we found to be confusing, surprising, and even disturbing. When we keep our book or several reading books in a prominent spot so students can view them such as a corner of our desk, we are quietly whispering, “I am a reader.” When we share our invisible reading process to make an inference, draw a conclusion, or clarify the new information that has been presented and make the necessary accommodations to fit that new learning with pre-existing schema, then we are demonstrating to our students that we are readers – and we sometimes struggle to make meaning out of a text. After all, reading is hard work, but the payoff is enormous!
When we let our students learn about us as readers, they learn about our likes and dislikes, reading fears, reading loves, where we like to read, when we read, our reading goals. In order to share with others, we may have to track several weeks of our readerly lives – record what we are reading and the places and times of day when we engage in reading. We may start to look at the kinds of reading we are doing – perhaps mainly historical fiction, picture and chapter books, and gardening magazines. In Literacy Essentials (2018, p. 195) Routman tells us it is important to be a model for a reading life because we (teachers) may be the only reading role models some of our students have. She advises us to begin or renew our readerly life and that it is never too late! Tackling shorter books, poetry, and picture books may be a good place to start. As readers, we find ways to present our reading lives in both reading and writing workshops and across the day. For example, when my fourth graders were creating a dinosaur museum and learning about archeology in science and social studies, I had the good fortune of finding several newspaper and magazine articles about recent dinosaur digs and discoveries such as the sinosauropteryx discovery in China in 1996. Reading those articles to the students and posting them on the bulletin board in plastic bags for students to take to their seats to read with their partner or by themselves was one way I shared my “outside-of-school” reading life.
Being a reader is part of being a leader. Teddy Roosevelt consumed books, reading a minimum of one book a day — history, poetry, philosophy, novels — as well as newspapers and magazines. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2018/01/09/trump-isnt-big-on-reading-teddy-roosevelt-consumed-whole-books-before-breakfast/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d91c4b64adaa) Some United States presidents have been writers, too, such as John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and Teddy Roosevelt. But today more than ever, we need to read to understand the diverse populations that comprise our global society, to stay on top of new trends, new technologies, new research (for example, the newest brain research related to the teaching of reading and human development) and the best teaching practices. I urge my graduate students to be prepared to answer the question, “What are you reading?” during a job interview. Recently, a friend’s son came to his first interview armed with current children’s books that could serve as mirrors and windows for children in elementary school (see the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop) and educational journals he had just finished or was in the process of reading. He was called back for a second interview and then hired for a teaching position at one of the elementary schools. I believe that sharing his reading life was an important factor in securing a teaching job.
In Literacy Essentials, Routman lists things we can do to take action to become a role model for a readerly life (p. 195-199). I have created a list and hope you will consider some of these actions as you find your way back to reading or as you try to fit reading into your busy teacher life throughout the school year.
- Know yourself as reader; your successes and limitations.
- Don’t always play it safe – take risks and try new authors and genres such as young adult literature, a graphic novel, a collection of essays.
- Recommend books to your students so they can see you reading and that you have a reading life.
- Bring in the book YOU are currently reading and post it on a “What are you reading?” sign outside your door that includes what you are reading as a read aloud to your class and what you are reading outside of school.
- Share a new goal you have set for yourself. My goal for 2022 is to start each day with some reading. To that end, I have a stack of books I can always depend on for a quick five to fifteen-minute read each morning. Here are some of my choices: Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh, Garden Poems selected and edited by John Hollander, Natural Meditation: Refreshing Your Spirit Through Nature by Barbara Ann Kipfer (can be less than a three-minute read), A Suitcase of Seaweed & MORE by Janet Wong, and Live This Day: A Guided Journal to Inspire Positivity and Intention (some writing here as well) by Miriam Hathaway.
Read professional books about your craft.
Reference your reading life to your students when it is appropriate in a conference, a minilesson, or a class meeting.
Read magazines and newspapers.
Be a reader of books you will use in your classroom: wordless books, picture books, early chapter books, upper elementary/middle school, YA literature, poetry, essays, plays.
Try listening to books while you are in the car – audiobooks are on the rise!
Follow and establish GoodReads accounts.
Recommend books on amazon.
Keep a reader’s notebook.
Suggest a place in the school (perhaps a special shelf in the librarian’s office or in the copy room) where your colleagues can place books they’ve read so teachers can borrow to read and return when they are finished.
Create a “mailbox” in a local park. In Upper Moreland Township in Pennsylvania, “Little Free Libraries” dot the walking trail, so not only can you exercise your body, you can come away with a book to exercise your brain!).
Ask your school and local librarian for suggestions for read alouds and book clubs.
Talk about your readerly life by sharing when you decided to abandon a book, personal connections you made with a book, or sharing an excerpt where the words made you laugh out loud, shed a tear, or take action in some way.
Keep current – know what new books are being published. Follow Donalyn Miller’s blog https://bookwhisperer.com/blog/ or follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Mr. John Schumacher http://mrschureads.blogspot.com/, Colby Sharp, Cindy Minnich, and Nerdy Book Club posts are wonderful educators to follow in order to learn what is available for you.
It is important for us to demonstrate that we are yearlong readers. Even though we may be reading for graduate courses or for a school committee, we cannot afford to designate the summer months as the only months we read recreationally. It is possible to do this. Strategize to succeed in this endeavor. I save longer, more complex reads like The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman that analyzes globalization in the early 21st century for summer or holiday reading. During busy months I find comfortable reads like a Mary Higgins Clark mystery and The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith or a favorite author like Elizabeth Berg, Toni Morrison, Delia Owens, or Anne Tyler.
A New Year’s Resolution: Live the readerly life we want our students to develop. Our good reading habits will help us continue to develop into the expert we want to be. Reading daily will bring us into the inner classroom circle – being part of the reading community we establish with our students is crucial to our successes as reading teachers. What are your students reading? What are you reading?
Lynne R. Dorfman is a 1989 Writing Project fellow. She continues to serve on the West Chester Writing Project’s advisory board and highly recommends the invitational summer writing institute. In her spare time, Lynne writes professional books and posts for MiddleWeb and her own blog and remains a co-editor for PAReads: The Journal of Keystone State Literacy Association.