Reading for Pleasure

Reading for pleasure…not “blow-off.” Not “study hall.” Not “sit around and visit.” Reading. Reading books. Reading books you choose. Reading. Thinking, Writing. Talking. Listening.

If you’re imagining a classroom filled with students who love to read, who will always have a book, and who will hang on your every word, be warned. An open elective will also include students who were randomly placed in class by the computer, students who are aggressive book haters. Students who used to like reading but haven’t cracked a book in years. Pretend readers who read the first chapter of required books and the last, then just listen carefully in class discussions for plot details. Special education teachers placed their students in my class. It was a favorite of foreign exchange students. Be ready for a real mixed bag. That means you’ll be individualizing every student’s work. That actually happens naturally because students will read books they choose, and their level of written responses.

Reading for Pleasure is built on strong reading research: students choosing what they read; reading workshops, made famous by Nancie Atwell; devoting class time for reading. Reading and writing connection.

So, get to know books. Young adult books, popular fiction. Classics. Read widely from as many genres as possible. Concentrate on your own reading likes and dislikes and prepare to work on those areas where your knowledge of books is weak. Get to know your school library media specialist and ask for lots of book talks…visit the library if you don’t have a pretty deep classroom library.

Throughout the years, I’ve discovered some nonnegotiables in Reading for Pleasure. You must read with students…and you should be reading what they’re reading, the books they recommend to each other. If you don’t read, students will not see any value in reading themselves. Writing about the books as they read is necessary for a couple of reasons: those reading responses help students make sense of the books, and those let you teach about the difference between the summary and analysis used in the classroom and their responses (the way readers communicate to each other). You are building a reading community around these responses. Once you have their responses, you must read and answer back. You will model how passionate readers interact with books and with other readers. Here is where you will also gently steer students from summary and analysis into the free-wheeling world of response. Requiring students to read books, not magazines or short fiction, will help build comprehension and stamina, both of which contribute to higher test scores.

Your class should be a quiet place where everyone has a book, and is reading. When you look up from your book, engagement should be obvious…noses in books, smiles, pages turning eagerly. Their responses will also show evidence of their engagement in the books.

Some teachers use class time to hold individual conferences with students about books--or time to move around the room, checking with students’ progress in their books. Others read with students all hour and use grading time to make those connections by writing all over students’ paper. You will find your own rhythm as you work with students.

Grading can center around the reading and the writing…with all work done in class, a missed day means students will work at home to make up the reading and the responses. Reading responses are quick, first drafts. Students should not be graded for spelling and mechanics unless you allow for revisions and edits. Asking students to do this, and publish their responses online, could be rewarding. But we cannot require perfection and deep insights at the same time. I preferred the insights.

My classes had students 9-12 at all ability levels. So, requiring a certain number of books or pages did not work for us. Requiring a certain number of words or lines on responses was also unfair to some readers. I wanted a class that was equitable for all. We read together for about 40 minutes, and students wrote for five minutes. This way every student could shine, no matter what his or her ability or maturity level. Students read…for pleasure, and learned about themselves.

This class will be a self-reflection for your students…allow them time and freedom to explore their own learning and growth.

--Claudia Swisher
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