Thursday, October 6, 2016

Independent Reading

Full disclosure: I have always loved reading. When I was little, the Book Fair was one of my favorite school events. Every Christmas list I made was dominated by books. As an adult and a teacher one of my big struggles was the lack of time I had for pleasure reading, relegating those books which accumulated all school year long to the precious weeks of summer when I could divide my time between pleasure reading and curriculum planning for the next school year. Whenever I buy gifts for children it is books. Some of my favorite gifts that I have ever received are books. You get the picture.

Needless to say, I found it heartbreaking when my children reached an age -- or a grade in school -- when reading lost all enjoyment for them. Even summer reading is proscribed. They are told what to read and what to do with and in response to the books. They no longer read for pleasure and I actually worry that they won't rediscover that joy when their agency over reading is restored.

With all that said, as a librarian, I really want students to find the joy in books. Any kind of books: print, ebooks, audio books -- fiction or non-fiction. Just relish the world created by an author and enjoy it just for entertainment or because the story resonates for some reason. In 2000 an ALA report defined independent reading as reflecting "the reader’s personal choice of the material to be read as well as the time and place to read it. Independent reading is done for information or for pleasure. No one assigns it; no one requires a report; no one checks on comprehension." The definition remains sound, the question is how can schools, teachers, librarians, and students make time for this type of reading amidst all of the other required and assessed content reading? And, if more un-assessed reading was done purely for pleasure, wouldn't reading performance assessments improve?

So how do we DO it? Certainly modeling it is important. I wonder: how often during the day do students see the adults around them reading independently? I try to model this by having the books I am reading piled on my desk, and I listen to audiobooks to and from work and usually forget to take my headphones from around my neck during the day. When students ask: are those bone-conducting headphones? I answer with: I was listening to my audio book; do you want to try?

Patty Blount discussing "Some Boys" with #SWVBC

Last evening, I participated in my new school's "Somewhat Virtual Book Club" chat (#SWVBC). We met in the library after hours and ordered for pizza for dinner. At 6PM, we joined a Google Hangout where we met with the students, teachers, and librarians from two other high schools in different states. Just as we were finishing our introductions, the author of the book we were discussing  joined our Hangout. Nothing about this experience was required. Some students still hadn't finished reading the book, but the conversation about the book still mattered to them. Some participants were critical of the book and talking with the author helped them re-frame their perceptions. Still other readers of the book loved it and were thrilled to hear about the author's process and learn why the story and characters evolved as they did. Today, at school, students were still talking about the book, carrying over from last evenings chat.

So much about this experience was so cool! Students could get together and socialize around a common, voluntary reading experience. They could participate from home if they couldn't get a ride to school. Students in different schools, in different states, could meet and interact with each other. Students could ask an author all about their process, their experiences, their words. And students (and teachers) could just listen and take away whatever was meaningful for them. And ultimately, that is what is enjoyable about reading. Each reader takes away personal meaning or challenge or enjoyment. They immerse themselves intellectually, emotionally, imaginatively in a text. What more can we want for our students?

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