I love to read. It is one of my very favorite things to do. When I was a child, the most effective way to punish me wasn't to ground me from the television or playing outside. It was to ground me from books. It was really the only thing that ever got through to me. (Of course, as a teacher now, I cringe at this punishment, but truly it is the only thing that worked on me so I don't harbor ill will toward my mom over it...especially because I know she's likely to read this post. [Hi, mom!]).
This summer, I read 17 books. It was glorious. Usually when I tell my students these statistics, their mouths drop open in utter disbelief. Sadly, the longer I teach, the less my students tend to really be readers when they arrive to my classroom. Some really don't have decoding down pat yet (EL students after all), but when I say they aren't readers, I mean they don't LIKE to read. They find it arduous, boring, repetitive and/or pointless. It makes me so, so sad. But really, I also understand that school is partly why they don't like to read. We kill their love of reading by over testing, making every book be tied to some kind of learning and just suck the joy right out of reading for them.
Several years ago, we were blessed to have multiple literacy coaches in the school I was teaching in. It was great. We had support, we also had many interventionists to help pull small groups and really focus on the skills our kids needed. I do remember one time at a staff meeting, they were telling us (per what the district said) that even our read aloud had to be "instructional." We were required to do these lessons where when we read aloud, we dissected the books and overanalyzed them. I dug in my heels. I knew this was not a way to build readers. Sure, shared reading is great and has it's place. But making every single read aloud be interactive and full of educational tasks? Nope, I wasn't feeling it. I knew if I did what I was being told to do, I would be part of the reason why most kids hate to read. And I did not want that on my conscience.
So, I did what many teachers do. I smiled, nodded and said I would do it, but within the walls of my own room, I did what I felt was right. I love to read to my students simply for the sake of enjoying a book. I might ask them to help me review the previous chapter before we read a new one or make a connection to something that happened, but for the most part, I read these books to my students for the simple pleasure of sharing a great story with them. Nothing sparks a child's interest in a book more than someone sharing that book with them.
I'm a big advocate of reading all kinds of books to kids: chapter books, picture books, student created books, you name it. I want them to see that there is print everywhere and not only can that print teach us things, but it can also be enjoyable to read it. At the beginning of the year, I read a lot of picture books to my kids. Some do serve a dual purpose of having lessons/morals included, but many of them are just books I enjoy reading and they end up loving them too. As the year goes on, we begin to read novels. Some of my absolute favorites are The One and Only Ivan and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. The first time I read Edward aloud to a third grade class, they dissolved into giggles when I said Edward was naked (don't worry, he's a bunny, it's not an inappropriate book!) or when I said Edward found himself in the company of a hobo. When I read Ivan for the first time to a class, they were enthralled by his relationship with Ruby. The children came to love these stories and beg for me to keep reading because they wanted to know what happened next to these characters they came to love. They would have been less interested if there were worksheets to fill out or long, arduous discussions where they had to dissect the motivation of the characters. Sometimes, it is okay to read simply for the pleasure of reading.
To that end, however, I also realize some children need some motivation to pick up a book at home. Often they don't have books at home or models for reading at home. Thus, incentives are okay if they are carefully crafted and not designed to make students hate to read, but rather to find books they enjoy reading and want to read.
Enter Read Around the World (RATW). It has been a few years since I used this program. Actually, I haven't used it since I moved down to third grade (the first year I had third grade, we used a 30 books in 3rd grade challenge). The concept of RATW is pretty simple: as students read, they earn "miles" and those miles are added up to help them "travel" the world.
I began by setting this up in the hallway and not talking about it at all. The students pass by it on our way home every day and it has already piqued their curiosity.
The last fourth grade class I did this with, one student traveled around the world 3 times before the end of the year! Once around the world is 45,000 miles which is approximately equal to 37 1/2 hours of reading over the course of the year. This student was so motivated to keep traveling that he read and read and read (and his end of year MAP scores showed that yes, he really did do all of that reading; his growth was tremendous).
I'm so excited to introduce this to the students and see how far they travel this year!