Reconsidering Reading

I love reading! I’ve always loved reading. When I was a preschooler, my grandmother used to come down from Sydney, Nova Scotia to visit. She’d take my sister and I to the mall, My grandmother and sister loved to shop, but I loved to read. My grandmother used to arrange for somebody to watch me in the bookstore, so that she could go off with my sister for a couple of hours of shopping. Imagine a preschooler surrounded by books on the floor of the children’s section in the Coles store at the mall … that was me! I’m sure that at the age of three or four I couldn’t actually read — hey, I was actually just starting to talk at that point — but it didn’t matter. My mom always read to me at home, and I knew the flow of my favourite stories and how to use pictures to create my own stories. I was captivated by books and I still am! With a month of summer vacation still left to go, I’ve already read 20 books — from humorous novels to mysteries and thrillers to educational reads — and I’m sure that I’ll read almost as many more in the coming weeks. Why do I share these “reading stories” with you? Because as a teacher that’s taught every grade, in some capacity, from JK-Grade 6, I’ve noticed how few students read for pleasure nowadays, and that bothers me. I was thinking of this very thought last night when I listened to Pernille Ripp‘s Ignite at Nerdcamp 2015.

I’m not sure that I feel exactly the same way as Pernille, but what definitely struck me by her talk — and what I continue to contemplate — is why so many students don’t love to read anymore. As teachers, are we partially to blame? I think about what I’ve done for years.

  • I make reading into homework.
  • Students rarely get a chance to share reflections, questions, and connections authentically.
  • Levelled books and levelled readers make up a chunk of our classroom library, and all students know their reading levels.
  • Books are primarily what students read … but what else could they read?
  • Reading takes place primarily separately from other subject areas and activities. Why?
  • We so rarely read just for the “joy” of reading: it’s always about teaching a decoding or comprehension strategy or practising a skill.

And then I remember the couple of days that we spent turning our classroom into a library. Students were so eager to categorize our books, look through them, talk about them, and label the hundreds of resources in our library. 

2015-08-05_15-43-25The part of the day that still sticks with me the most is when one of my students — one that people would probably consider a “struggling reader” — sat down on a chair in the book nook and read through two Five Little __________ (different titles) all on her own. Now she’s heard these stories before and knew the pattern of the song, but she was so focused on the words, the pictures, and the books. This is a student that’s told me before that she “can’t read,” but on this day and at this moment, this is not how she felt.

I love that she saw herself as a reader, and this is what I want all children to feel. How can we find “joy” in reading if we don’t see ourselves as readers? Why would a beginning reader persevere with the reading process if he/she cannot find some happiness in doing so? In September, I start teaching Senior Kindergarten. One of my goals is that I want to help develop a love of reading.

  • This means connecting with the home and seeing how reading can happen at home and at school.
  • This means showing that reading is about more than just “books”: cereal boxes, newspapers, maps, notes, instructions, and diagrams are all things that we can read.
  • This means giving time to let children enjoy reading in purposeful ways and as part of playing/learning.
  • This means providing more authentic options for children to think and talk about what they read. It’s not about the need for detailed follow-up activities.

I know and agree with the importance of developing phonemic awareness and oral language skills to help students learn how to read. This blog post is not about that though: it’s about making reading more than just a school event. If our youngest students can want to read for pleasure, what impact with this have on them as they grow older? How can we help even more students want to read? What might we need to change to make this possible, and are we willing to make these changes?


18 thoughts on “Reconsidering Reading

  1. Wow! This is a fantastic post. I feel much the same way. I have been working hard to create a “literate” environment in my K room. Books supporting learning at all centres, variety of read alouds, and constant searching for how to do a quiet book time. Upon reflection I see that our best book times were times that were chosen by students. After a long outside playtime students often migrated to books when they came in. One student said to me, “I want to read a book. It makes my body calm”. (We were also working on self regulation techniques!) I cannot plan this magic, but I can create an environment in which that magic is a possibility.

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Rachel, and for sharing your experiences. I find it interesting that the students see reading as calming. I think that I do too. Before a hectic day, I really need to begin by reading a book, newspaper, or some blog posts. I think that this quiet reading time grounds me. I guess the same can be true for students. I love how you create the environment to make this possible (where reading happens naturally). I wonder how others do this as well.


  2. You got me going…the openness of book time to allow for joy of reading is different from the teaching of reading through phonemic awareness etc (which can be done at other times and in other ways). I think at the early stages when they don’t have a lot of reading strategies this “free” book time is essential! And yes…reading without follow up activities…reading for its own sake. I would love to hear the experiences of others as well!

    • Yes! Yes! Yes! I think we share the same thoughts here, Rachel. I’m so glad that you mentioned that this is different than “teaching reading” (phonemic awareness, etc.). This is about really interacting with and developing a love of “books” (and other reading materials). I wonder how much of an impact our classroom environment and set-up has on this. I think of myself:

      Reading can happen anywhere.
      I like to be comfortable when I read: often stretched out on the sofa or sitting on a comfortable chair.
      Reading can be social. I like to talk about what I’ve read and what I think. Non-fiction books, in particular, I like looking at with others.
      Food and reading often go together: from reading a magazine, newspaper, or book with a quick snack to snacks at Book Club gatherings.

      Maybe developing this love of reading also starts with considering how reading and books can become an intricate part of our envitonmrnt. I wonder what teachers think about when it comes to reading materials and classroom design.


  3. Aviva,
    Getting kids to LOVE reading at a young age is key. I think that the joy gets sucked out by levels and expectations. As teachers I think we feel huge pressure to have our students reach the marker goal for the end of the year that is set by our boards. Like it is some big mark against us if each student does not reach that goal. Nowhere it is tracked how far they have come or all of the strategies that they have mastered along the way. Nor to we account for the attitudes our students have about reading.

    I know that my grade 1 students enjoyed looking at books, magazines, flyers and short stories. They loved fiction and nonfiction and appreciated that I never told them what they were “allowed” to read. We talked in the first days of school about all the ways you can read – it doesn’t just meant reading the words – they were floored! They all beleived that reading the words was THE WAY to read. Once they realized they could be “readers” by making up a story to go with the pictures or talking about what they had read with a friend, they all got even more excited about books!

    I also shared my struggles with learning to read with my students. They couldn’t believe that a teacher would have hated reading – but it is true I once did. Talking about learnibg to read as a process that takes time and practice, that can be frustrating and exciting, that can be easy at times and with other texts really hard, helped my students to see themselves along the continuum. Students need to own the process in order to develop their love of reading – stickers and rewards just won’t make that happen. I know from my own experience that it just made me feel more frustrated. It wasn’t until I found texts that really interested me, and that I had choice to read, did I fall in love with books. If you wete to come to my house now and see the books that I have collectes you might think that I have always been a readers. The love came to be later than some, and I don’t get to read as often as I would like, but it is one of my favourite things to do when I need to calm down or escape for a while.

    Keep spreading the love of reading 😃

    • Thanks for the comment and for sharing your story here, Sarah! I know what you mean about getting students to meet benchmarks. I’ve never felt this pressure from administrators, but it is pressure that I’ve put on myself before. Data interests me, and when scores are lower than I want/expect, I can’t help but question if there’s something more or different that I could be doing. But I think when it comes to reading, there are two parts: developing that love of reading and supporting reading instruction (and in the early years, phonemic awareness is a huge component of that). Like you, I want kids to see that there are many ways to read and that reading is enjoyable as well as helpful/necessary. If they can develop this love of reading at an early age, that would be fantastic! How do we continue to support it through the grades? As teachers of older students feel even more pressured by increasing curriculum expectations and demands, how do we ensure that there is still time to just “read?” Is this what we should be ensuring? There are many things that I continue to wonder.


  4. Love this! I’m what I term a “habitual reader” I read whatever is handy- as you said cereal boxes, signs, etc. I love to read. As a new elementary principal I’m thinking so much about how to instill a reading culture in my school. How can I help teachers help students love to read.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kim! I’m very curious to know what you do as a principal to support this in the school. I think as teachers, we need to start reconsidering what counts as reading. As you said here, reading is about more than just “books.” Maybe some students get turned off of reading because they’re only given one option. Maybe we need to create more options with fewer required follow-up activities, to help students see that they can all love to read!


  5. Reading for pleasure: to learn, to be entertained, to be lost in other experiences, to think, these are the purpose of all of those comprehension strategies. How do we tie that together?

    • I wish I knew, Sue. Maybe it’s in how we introduce and continue to reinforce these strategies in class. Are we spending too much time on pre-planned, detailed comprehension activities that take time away from the enjoyment of reading? What else could we do? I’d love to know what others do.


  6. Wow. Lots here! I work mostly with junior/intermediate students, and so I also see the changing dynamic of reading. I will say that we have done some interesting things in our classrooms to encourage reading. Our students do have access to books, magazines, and other text, they can read blogs or websites about a favourite topic, but they sometimes need to be persuaded that reading sports stats and comparing a team’s progress with another is reading. I sometimes feel like my role is about that – helping them realize that engaging with print material about their interests is reading.

    I run an intermediate book club once a week. Kids come and just talk about what they’re reading, and what they like or don’t like about it. They argue and laugh and are fierce about what they think. Yet, even in that group of ardent readers, there will be a point in the year when many of them are only reading what they “have” to read for school. Their lives are so busy otherwise that they just don’t have time to curl up with a book, just to read. It really makes me sad. I’m struggling with it, and trying to have them help me figure out what’s going on there.

    I am lucky enough to live in a household of 4 voracious readers. We read in many forms, digital and analog, book, mags, blogs, wikis. My older son has been at cadet camp for 6 weeks this summer and when we visit, one of the things he wants is more stuff to read! I know part of that joy in reading is that my kids grew up with two parents modelling that reading was therapeutic and joyful and enriching and challenging and worth sharing and talking about.

    I think it’s that sharing and talking about that’s an important piece we sometimes miss with our students. My staff room is often a place for sharing what we’re reading – several women on staff share a book club, and we talk about what we’re reading. How often do we do that with our parent and student community? In my weekly parent communication blog, I always talk about something I or my own kids are reading, and ask people to share their reading. Slowly, I’m starting to get some response. How else can we open that conversation?

    • Thank you so much, Lisa, for sharing your experiences and your great questions! I think that this parent piece is key. Working at a school with a very high ESL population, also makes me think that we need to model that reading in any language is important. I think it’s Karen Lirenman (@klirenman on Twitter) that had “community reads” in her classroom. Parents would be invited in to read with the children. I’ve heard of guest reader programs as well. I see some of this happening in the primary grades — and I know that I’ve done some of this before too — but it seems to happen less in the junior grades. Maybe there could be the reading/writing connection with parents attending, and even participating in, a Poetry Slam. Maybe there could even be weekly “Tea With Parents,” where students, parents, and staff could talk about and share reading together. In intermediate grades, there could even be some parent/student book clubs: many book choices could intrigue both parents and children. Depending on the community, some parents may also work during the day. I wonder if there could be tech options for participating (i.e., Skyping or FaceTiming in to read or talk about reading) or even some voluntary after school or nightly events. When I taught Grades 5 and 6, we also used the online radio station, 105 the Hive, as a way to read aloud and share books (and thinking about books) with parents and with the community. Many parents chimed in through emails, texts, and tweets. They also didn’t need to be at the school to participate, which opened up possibilities for working parents. Connecting reading with Science or Social Studies may also be neat, and parents with different professional backgrounds could share the reading, thinking, and learning that they do as part of their jobs.

      The talking and thinking about reading is so important, and being able to share this with parents would be terrific! I wonder if sometimes the problem is that we turn so many reading activities into long, detailed written follow-ups. If students are conversing about what they’re reading, do they need to do this writing? Are we spending so much time on the follow-up piece that we’re losing some of the “joy” in the reading? Why are we choosing these writing options? What could we do instead? Genuine, authentic talking about books may actually seem more enjoyable and less like a chore! I know that I’ve had the students talk about their reading before, and after all of the talk time and sharing, they’ve then had to go and write it down. Why? I wonder if we’re creating an extra step that we don’t necessarily need. Thoughts?


      • My own two would tell you that having to write about what they’ve read is the sure-firest way to kill the joy of reading. I really like your idea of letting parents chime in to the discussion in any way they can. I wonder about older kids being able to podcast/vlog about what they’re reading. Thanks for getting the wheels turning!

        • Thanks Lisa! I love the podcast/vlog idea. Maybe what we have to do is ask students what works for them, and then be open-ended enough in our choices. I wonder what students would say.


  7. Hi Aviva,
    You make some interesting points about students and their different levels of interest when reading. I agree with your point that there should be an element of ‘joy’ when reading. Yesterday I saw a news report about how important it is for parents to read to their kids and all the researched benefits were mentioned. I will also try harder this school year to engage my new class of grade 7 students to find more ‘joy’ when they read and try to improve their reading skills while learning. The following are some of my strategies that have engaged students in my classroom:
    1. Student choice-allow students to read their favourite books but encourage them to try other genres.
    2. Provide books that have the ‘excitement, wow factor’ e.g. Guiness world records, Wacky Wonders, Why? books, Did you know? books, Creepy crawlers…
    3. Read with peers and then add follow up activity e.g. what would you do?..
    4. Use technology during reading, researching, ebooks, use websites etc
    5. Connect reading to real world e.g. climate change
    6.Be positive about reading; teacher should show excitement and enthusiasm about reading too…enthusiasm is contagious.
    7. Add movement to reading lessons, when discussing a topic, students can move to cue cards posted around the room e.g. go to agree/disagree area to discuss topics-small groups then discuss with whole group.
    8. Add Variety to class book collection, Read from BIG books, comics, newspapers, magazines, high interest books, picture books etc
    9. Know your class, every class is different and so will their book choices vary.
    10. Have fun, there are many different ways to engage students to find ‘JOY’ when reading, try as many as you can….use the library, go to the library, author visits, join book clubs, use reading logs, oral book reports, try different reading programs, volunteers etc…
    Happy Reading!

    • Thanks for the comment, David! You make many different suggestions here. I wonder how students feel on this topic. I know that student voice and choice is a big focus at your school. What do they think might inspire them to read more? Why? What activities make reading less enjoyable, and why? How can we change these practices? I hope that students of all ages will speak up and share their thoughts on this, so that together, we can hopefully increase the joy of reading!


  8. Hi Aviva, thank you for sharing your thoughts! I think it is possible to rekindle a love of reading in the classroom, teachers may have to work harder to do so, for example finding that “just right” book that will make a reluctant reader want to read, or varying their assessment output a written reading response should not always be required.

    Here’s my thoughts on making it possible.

    • Thanks Olivia! I think that we definitely feel the same way here. Thanks for sharing the link to your recent blog post. I just commented on it. Hopefully this reading discussion can continue.


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