Stealth Reading in School

Ms. O'Brien, Room 204

One of my favorite things about teaching was Independent Reading.  No matter what grade I was teaching, or which level, whether it was regular English or Creative Writing or Intro to Journalism and Broadcasting, we would stop for half an hour every Friday to read in silence. The students would bring books of their own choice and we’d just kick back. The only thing you’d hear was pages turning.  Sometimes we’d get to the end of our thirty minutes and take a vote to see if we should keep reading for another ten.  Sometimes, after that, we’d take another vote.

Please don’t tell me that teenagers don’t like to read.  They might not like to read what’s required, but whose fault is that?

I taught one “Standard” level 9th grade English class with 12 boys and 2 girls.  Some of the kids had never finished reading a book in their entire lives.  We decided to do an experiment and read for half an hour every day for four weeks, just independent reading of books the students chose themselves: Crash, Twilight, Scar Tissue, Bleachers, Flipped, Calvin and Hobbes, Eragon, you name it.  At the end of four weeks, most of the kids were reading with a fluency and comprehension they’d never had before.  Some liked reading and felt successful at it for the first time ever, at age 14.  I can’t remember what I skipped in the curriculum to make it happen, but was it worth it? I’d say so.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we let teachers let students have what they really need?  They’ll suck in what they want to learn like Slurpees up big straws.

Today on the Promised Blog Tour, Emily at The Ninja Librarian asks me how my teaching influenced my writing, and whether I thought of my novels for “reading across the curriculum” when I was writing them.  I’ll tell you now, I learned far more as a teacher than I ever  taught.

5 Responses to Stealth Reading in School

  • My favorite memory of independent reading in your classes was during Journalism and I had just broken my finger. I was reading Birthmarked in school every day and it was one Friday where I was reading in the Library before class and I got to that one scene where I just walked into your room after reading that part and I was crying my eyes out. It’s my favorite memory because I remember you were so happy that the book could actually reach me like that, and I was so happy for you that my experience showed an accomplishment for you. I still like to read when I get time on Fridays. It’s a great way to relax. 🙂

  • We learn best when we can connect emotionally to something and we can best connect emotionally with a book we WANT to read. Go you. Glad you took the time to encourage reading in your classes. I have several family members who will not pick up a book to save their lives and I am just surprised. Reading is such an integral part of my life… cannot imagine not wanting to read. I wonder if my family members had had a chance to read like you gave your students if that would have made a difference.

  • Katie ~ You were so great to read it for me and I loved having your feedback. I remember that day, too! I think of you being busier than ever, so I’m glad you still find time to read. I do, too.
    Brooke ~ Thanks for your comment. I love to read, too, but I think I understand why some people don’t love it. They’re choosing other activities they enjoy more. My concern is for students who have never had the chance to see what real reading for pleasure is about. Without the ability to read as fast as one speaks and comprehend comfortably, all reading is labor. Schools should do whatever it takes to equip kids with true literacy.
    All best,

  • My teacher rarely lets us read anymore. Its a shame.I don’t get many opportunities to read in school anymore- but then I am running out of books.
    currently reading Birthmarked for the 11th time!

  • Amber ~
    Eleven times must be a record! Thanks for letting me know.
    All best,

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