From the Classroom: How do we build our students’ readerly lives?

A few years ago, I read Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, and since then, I’ve had to ask myself some tough questions about how and why I teach literature. This passage, in particular, continues to haunt me:

Shouldn’t schools be the place where students interact with interesting books? Shouldn’t the faculty have an ongoing, laser-like commitment to put good books in our students’ hands? Shouldn’t this be a front-burner issue at all times?

As many teachers know, it’s nearly impossible to find time to do more, especially with increasing curricular demands and testing mandates. But at the end of the day, we make time for what matters. Period.

Moreover, we send a message to our students about what matters by how we spend our time in class. If it’s something worth doing, it’s worth taking class time to do. Is reading for pleasure something students should only do on their own time? What message does that send? If it’s not important enough to do in class, why would it be important enough for students to do on their own? Reading—and building our students’ readerly lives—should be at the center of our classrooms.

And there is no readerly life without choice and opportunity.

So as I write this, my ninth graders and I are in Day 7 of our inaugural Read-A-Thon—ten straight days of “non-stop” reading. After finishing a unit on Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, I decided to give students the choice and opportunity to read independently. Thus, our Read-A-Thon was born.