School started for me at the beginning of this month. This is my 25th year of teaching, and on the first day of school I gave my 5th grade reading classes a survey on their reading interests and habits.
The first question on the survey was: How often do you read for fun and not for school? Thirty percent of my students circled Rarely or Never. Thirty percent. Almost a third.
I know not every student loves to read. Some struggle at comprehension. Some can’t sit still. I wish I could say that a lot of those students just prefer active sports activities to reading, but sadly more of them spend their time playing video games. The saddest of all, I think, is when students come from families where reading is simply not valued. I’ve had adults in the community complain to me about the Summer Reading assigned by my school (which is 4 books of the student’s own choosing).
“Summer is supposed to be fun!” one mother told me indignantly. “I told my daughter she didn’t have to do it. She deserves a break.”
There are so many things wrong with that statement, I hardly know where to begin. Should I start with the idea that children are entitled to fun? Or that reading can’t be fun? Or should I begin with the idea that this woman’s daughter deserved a break after months of suffering through an education that girls in other parts of the world risk their lives for? And let’s not get into parents overruling a school assignment because it doesn’t sound like fun to them.
One of the most powerful tools I have for combating a negative attitude toward reading (especially when it is learned from home) is read aloud. It circumvents comprehension problems, homework non-compliance, and parents who don't encourage reading. I’m already compiling a list of titles to engage this year’s students.
Before the end of this year, some of the students in that thirty percent will:
- Check No More Dead Dogs out of the school library because they want to find out who’s sabotaging the school play before anyone else.
- Laugh out loud when Old Shep blows up and when they guess the ending to Little Britches’s poem, even though I don’t read that word out loud.
- Gasp when they realize Mary Hightower lives in the “ghost” of the Twin Towers and when they find out who the McGill really is.
- Argue over who lives and who dies, based on the Underland Prophecy of Gray.
- Put their heads down on their desks in sadness and shame when they hear what Jack Will says about Auggie on Halloween.
- Ask their parents to take them to the local library – possibly for the first time in their lives.
I’m getting ready to do battle with apathy, entitlement, and a lack of wonder and imagination. I’m going to teach them what fun really is.
Watch out, my lovely thirty percent. I’ve got some books for you.