Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sharing my reading life


I have Nancie Atwell and Donalyn Miller to thank for two huge changes in my relationships with my students over the past few years. Six years ago I saw Nancie Atwell speak at a conference. She talked about how she shared her life with her students – that they knew so much about her, they even knew her favorite candy. Two years ago I saw Donalyn Miller for the first time. She explained that we needed to share our reading lives with our students. We needed to explicitly teach our reading habits to help our students develop their own reading lives independent of us.

So, what am I doing with that information? Well, as a result my students know a lot about me. They know the basics – who my husband is. The fact that he is six foot seven and I am five foot two – it makes for an interesting photo. JThey know about my boys and my dog. They know my “favorites”, for example the know my favorite spot to eat by myself in Champaign is Café Kopi (I can read there.) They know my favorite store is Barnes and Noble. They know I REALLY like M&M’s. They know I drink Coke Zero. They know that if the room is messy, especially my desk, I can’t concentrate. They know I am a huge fan of Apple products. They know I love to read and write. They know my dream is to write a book that would help teachers.

As a reader they know where I like to read – Café Kopi or my favorite reading chair at home. They know that I always have a reading plan and they have seen pictures of my “to read” shelf in my bedroom. They know that I try and read for a certain amount of time each day. They know I am trying to read all of the Newbery winners in order. They know I have friends that are readers just like me. They know I plan for reading when we go on a break like the past two weeks. And they know I make a goal for every year related to reading.

So, why are these shared items important? I am a big believer in relationships. In fact, almost every paper I wrote in grad school had some element of the importance of relationships with your students in it. Once the relationship is built, you can get your students to really grow because of that relationship. It goes without saying, just as I let my students know me, I work hard to really know them.

Knowing all of this I came away from this Christmas Break with three items I want to share with my students on Monday. Three new realizations about reading that I think will help them in their own reading lives.

One I have already touched on – the Book Gap Challenge. Realizing I have avoided reading “the classics.” I already have a list of books I want to tackle this year as a result. This will be important because I am teaching a non-fiction unit in January. I will be asking them each to read non-fiction books. This is a gap for about 90-95% of my students. We will discuss why recognizing our gaps and trying to fill them is important. 

My stack a few days ago. I had read the ones on the right.
Another item I want to share with them is something I realized as I read so many books over break, the first 50 pages or so are tough for me. I read really fast, but only when I’m “hooked.” Most books take me at least 50 pages to get hooked, to really understand the characters. For the first 50 pages I put the book down a lot, check Twitter, bake cookies, etc. This is when most of my students tend to abandon books, so I think this is something they will identify with. I will talk about how I do abandon books, but only have I have gone past the first 50 or so. This does not mean I will tell them they can’t abandon before page 50, just that I know myself and that’s what works for me, they need to discover what works for them.


Finally, I was reminded again last night of the importance of having friends that read. I was finishing The Raven Boys and I knew I had a friend who had read it. The book had hooked me – after the first 50 pages, of course – and I kept questioning what was going on. Because my friend is also a reader, we proceeded to text on and off as I finished the book – over the next four hours we exchanged over fifty texts. They began with questions about a character from the book and how sad I was that something had just happened. The texts then extended to symbolism in the books, connections to characters from other books, and more. I need to share this with my students so they can see why having friends who read AND discussing books with them would be beneficial.

Come Monday morning these three realizations will be shared with my students during our mini-lesson. I hope they will help my students continue to reflect on their reading lives and what their own habits are. I can’t wait to be back in the classroom and discussing books with the kids.


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