The Classroom

The Classroom is a podcast by a middle school writing teacher conferring with students about the books they read and issues in writing. The podcast strives to give students a voice about the impact of choice in the classroom and the reality of what works for them in the teaching of reading and writing.
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Nov 17, 2016

Stella can't put books down. Natalie forces herself to put books down.

Stella re-reads books again and again and again. She wants to relive the experience.

Natalie extends the book by moving more slowly. She wants to savor the experience.

Stella, fingers tapping throughout, physically feels a response. She says, "I get hyped as I read...I read absurdly a lot..." You binge read? "Yes." 

Natalie, who shares Stella's feeling that she can't put a book down, says, "I want to learn more about it...but I don't want to rush myself into it..." After a month or so, if Matalie is still thinking about the book, she goes back and rereads it.

These two adolescents love books. They read. They engage in rich discussion with friends and family on their own about books. They recommend books. They accept recommendations. They think about their books when they are away from them!


There is always a "but..."

Reading for school is another issue. One admits that she skips pages (just to reach deadlines) when a book is assigned. Another steadfastly remarks that, if she reads something, she wants to read it "on my own terms."

It seems strange that an act as joyful and purposeful as reading can push adolescents into moves counterproductive to learning. Regrettably, we measure reading by speed and numbers as opposed to leveraging conversations and experiences.

Neither students reads for pleasure when a book is assigned. They even go so far as to say that it is unlikely...well, it is possible to enjoy the task...but unlikely. They use language that indicates that students have to separate joy from learning.

This is troubling.

Natalie: "When we had assigned books--done in a certain time--I did not like that--i just look for more literature devices because that is what we have to mark down, but when I read on my own I don't care about that."
Stella: "You are reading to find something instead of just enjoying it."

Of course, Kelly Gallagher's Readicide addressed this issue head-on in 2009. We suffer from a disconnect between what is deemed best practice in the classroom and what is best practice outside of the classroom. It used to be that (and maybe it still is in many instances) the experiences inside of the classroom prepared students for life outside of the classroom.

Yet, so much of what my students say sounds like they are being indoctrinated for a life boxed inside narrow bands of tests and tasks.

Stella tells me when books are assigned that it feels "less like reading and more like a worksheet..." To counter that experience, Stella often reads a book for pleasure while the task of reading to play school has been assigned.

What is astonishing is not that education is wrong--because many useful outcomes are often the intention behind our classroom novels--but that adolescents are right. The moves they make with their books beat the moves we make with our books.

Natalie's  grandmother lives with the family and the grandmother not only suggests books to Natalie, but she leaves several spread out at all times for Natalie to pick up and read. They discuss the books. They visit the library together at least once a month. When I asked Natalie how her grandmother knows her so well as a reader, she says, "probably because she talks to me."

Applying what good readers do outside of the class to the decisions we make inside of the classroom is a necessary adjustment to not only building lifelong readers but also building experiences that stick (and matter). 

As I reconsider the design of how I will handle an upcoming whole-class text, I have to remember these students' words that it is possible to enjoy an assigned text...if they feel an interest in the book and if they feel that their personal reading process is honored.

Neither happens because I teach the book.

Either could happen if I teach the reader...on their own terms.