Have I ever mentioned that Jennifer LaGarde is and will forever be one of my SHE-roes!?! Ever since I discovered her on Twitter, was fortunate enough to sit in on one of her presentations and then actually had the opportunity to meet her, I knew she is what I want to be when I grow up!
So, I wasn’t surprised at all when I read her post “Learning To Read Alone Is Not Enough. Your Students Need A Reading Champion” and could not stop shouting, “YES! YES! YES!” I won’t summarize the post for you, but I will say that every point she makes is valid, even though some educators will have a hard time admitting it.
Before I became a librarian, I was an English teacher. I always thought that I was a good teacher – my students seemed to really connect with me, did most of what I asked them to and I rarely had problems in class. We had rich discussions, read lots of books and wrote our hearts out. Now, however, when I look back on my 5 years in the classroom, I realize that while I’m sure I helped to make my students more confident, compassionate humans, I’m not really sure that I helped to make them lifelong readers. This is a hard pill to swallow, since I worked hard to be their reading champion.
As a librarian, I have an entirely different perspective on reading and its importance and place in education. I believe in giving students choice, yes and I do mean throwing out the whole class novel! But it’s not enough to just give them choice, we have to take time to listen to our kids and help empower them to find things that they want to read. Equipping them with the confidence to make their own reading choices is priceless!
I also believe that I can’t be a reading champion for my students if I’m not a passionate reader myself. So, I read, read and read some more. My nose is always in a book and my kids see this. I keep a sign on my desk that shows what book(s) I’m currently reading and I invite my kids to talk about them with me. I ask students what they’re reading and for recommendations. How often have you heard a teacher (who is probably unwilling to change his/her instructional philosophy) say, “If I don’t assign them books, how will I know that they actually read anything?” It’s very simple, just ask them about it. Take the time to engage students in conversations, both oral and written, about what they’re reading. It’s truly a magical thing.
I work everyday to reach reading champion status for my students because I know how much reading has changed my life. My first book subscription was for Girl Talk books. Thanks Mom! I tore through those books, reading the 3 that arrived for the month is 1 or 2 days. I often found solace in The Babysitters Club series, when I felt like no one understood my quirks. I discovered my love of all things mystery when my grandmother introduced me to Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. And I realized that girls can love action every time I read a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Every child deserves to feel this way – to lose him/herself in a story and to find him/herself in a character. Sometimes all it takes is one book that they instantly connect with. We have the power and obligation to do this for our students. Regardless of what research says or doesn’t say, what test scores prove or don’t prove, we should strive to be a reading champion for them.