Month: September 2013

Confessions of a teen non-reader

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What was the first book that you really loved?  Hmmm. I can think of a few that I probably read in middle school.  My Side of the Mountain, Cynthia Voight’s Homecoming ; are a couple that I remember really getting into.   But what did I do for the rest of my reading time in my youth?

I have NO idea.  Really, middle school is kind of traumatic.  I think I repressed all of my memories from that time.  I do, however, remember ‘speed reading’ books (a skill I still sometimes use before book talks) where I would get part way into a book, lose interest and then skip around and learn enough about the book to give the dreaded book report.

I mastered this through out high school.  I was the kid that got bored with the slow pace of language arts reading.  I vow to NEVER read Great Expectations.  I don’t care about crazy Mrs. Havisham and was glad it was all burned down.  This was until late high school when I read Vonnegut and Ellison and then a host of beatnik works . . . I didn’t read!

I am a librarian for heaven’s sake! In my adult life I read all the time!  I talk about books all day long with kids.  So how come I was a teen non-reader?  A few reasons:

1. I didn’t know what was out there to read.  I have no idea if my high school had fiction in the library.  I only remember going there once to learn where the card catalog was.  Granted there was not as wide of a selection of ya lit like there is today.

2. No one cared if I was reading.  My teachers certainly didn’t care if we read anything but required novels.  (And I was in Honors English!) Did any of my teachers even know me?  I don’t remember teachers asking me what I liked to do outside of school, what I was interested in . . . or really my thoughts about anything.

3. Most of my friends were non-readers.  Many of my friends were in the same boat as me!  I don’t think it was until I embraced a lifestyle of counter-culture worship (in my late teens). . . . I had friends that read.  (What college dorm room isn’t complete without Kerouac’s On the Road?)

So more importantly.  . .What am I going to do as a teacher-librarian to make sure my students are NOT non-readers?

1.  Flood their eyeballs with all types of books!  I am not a huge fan of doing book talks in front of a class of 30, but my goal is to have kids preview a ton of books and talk to each other about them. Everyday I have numerous informal conversations with students about what they are reading.  I read what they recommend!  Any excuse to come to the library is a good one! I have to admit it is avoidance technique used by many students, but I always make sure to talk to students about what they are reading and encourage checking out!

2. I believe first and foremost that in order for children to learn from their teachers; teachers need to be making connections with students as people.  I find out what they like, ask them if they are doing okay. . .engage them in caring conversations.  I love it when students rush up to me to tell me about a book I recommended to them.  Many times I don’t remember the book, but they do! Relationships in our learning community make the difference.  It’s why I go to work gladly everyday.

3. Peer pressure is a powerful force with teens.  Use this to your advantage.  The more I have kids talking about books to each other the better.  Kids know what other kids like.  The more kids that are excited about the book they are reading. . . the more reading will be a norm in your learning community.

How am I making this happen?  With our school’s 20 Book Challenge.  Every reader in our building, teacher and student, are taking the challenge of reading 20 books.  We are all in this together.  There is no prize for the student that reads the most.  Only when our WHOLE school has read 20 books. . .will the WHOLE school have a reward.  This means that kids need to encourage other kids to READ.  It is exciting, and a work in progress.