The hallways emptied once the last bell rang; the school is quiet. As I sit here writing my last slice for this year’s March SOL Challenge, I appreciate this quiet emptiness. I don’t think I really notice just how noisy my days usually are until times like this—the still and waning hours of a school day, as I sit at my desk and think.
My eye wanders over to my classroom library. I think about the books I need to pull from the shelves, books I want to feature or booktalk in the upcoming weeks (I make a mental note to pull next year’s PA Young Readers Choice titles out). We just finished our first Read-a-Thon of the year, and it was such a success that my students have already been asking for another. We have a few shared texts in the upcoming weeks—Purple Hibicus, Persepolis, The Kite Runner (my favorite!)—but if there’s a way I can squeeze another Read-a-Thon in, I’ll do it.
And I’ll do it because there are few things as powerful as seeing kids grow as independent readers. Now, I know that my students develop their analytical skills when we read our shared texts. But without opportunities for choice, and without the space and time to read what they choose, I’m not sure how far students will grow as independent readers—readers who will pick up a book even when they don’t have to.
I’m reminded of something that Kylene Beers said at the Notice and Note workshop I attended last December. She urged us to find ways to give students regular opportunities to read independently—to choose books that spoke to them, to give students the time and space to discover who they are as readers. We have a growing number of aliterate readers, Beers pointed out—students who can read but choose not to.
If all his books choices are made for him, how do students like him know who they are as readers?
In the beginning of the school year, I ask my students to draw their “reading trees”—each branch of the tree is dedicated to a genre and each leaf, a title. Drawing out our reading trees gives students a visual representation of what their reading lives look like. I’ll never forget one student this year who asked if one of his genre branches could simply be labeled “school books.” I told him he could draw his tree in whatever way was meaningful to him. When he was finished, his tree look like a lopsided little bush—filled with books he “had to read for school” on one lone heavy branch and sparse everywhere else. If all his books choices are made for him, how do students like him know who they are as readers? Do we just hope that one of the required texts appeals to him? Or can we find opportunities for him to find his own books? How can we support our students in discovering their reading lives?
When I glance to the front of the room, I smile at our Read-a-Thon tally—together, my 71 ninth grade students have read 203 books in the last three weeks (including spring break). Had I not made the time and space for reading during class that those would have been 203 books that may have gone unread. Earlier today, I went through their Read-a-Thon self-evaluations and noticed how many students exceeded their own page goals.
And of course, comments like the ones below assured me that our time spent reading was time well spent:
As I browsed the other reflections, I noticed how many students were thankful for the time to read and to discover new books. Furthermore, every time I have done a Read-a-Thon, students highlight the benefits of reading not just for pleasure but also—and perhaps more importantly—as a positive way to relieve stress.
Although I have always loved to read, I never really thought about reading explicitly as a stress-relieving activity. But of course it is. During one of our Read-a-Thon days, a student commented, “I like how quiet the room is. It’s just nice to read this way.” I’ve been thinking a lot about his comment—about the underappreciated value of quietness. Between the demands of their school work, activities, and their cell phones, students are pulled in many competing directions. I’m not sure how much quiet time they experience.
As I sit here finishing up this last slice, I find myself surrounded by that same quietness. I can hear the soft pad-pad-pad of fingers on the keyboard and the gentle hum of a fan somewhere in the ceiling. I feel a sense of peace.
I think my students felt that, too. We could all use a little extra peace in our lives.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.