Ahhh… a thick, glossy, paperback cover with crisp, new pages that have yet to be earmarked or crinkled at your fingertips as you are cuddled up in a comfy chair holding a warm cup of coffee; this sounds like heaven to you, right? It definitely does to me, but as I am an English major that has had a revived love for reading outside the classroom it is hard for me to take myself back to the time when I would have dreaded a teacher handing me a book and telling me I had to read it.
The reality is that is exactly where some of our students are – they do not experience the same excitement we might when we pick up a new book awaiting the new world and story we will dive into between the pages. Honestly, this past week I found myself picking up my high school copy of Night by Elie Wiesel and I remembered how I barely read it (skimmed it actually) and I found my high school “annotations” that were clearly written just to meet an expectation of my teacher. I was tickled by my notes in the margins because I was in the very beginning stages of learning how to be an active reading and how to use annotations, and I honestly do not know if I was ever taught. Between this memory and having a conversation with a student this week, I realized how much it matters to prepare students with the tools and skills to be successful in reading. If high school me was given an anticipation guide or tips to take on a text like Night, maybe I would have been a little more eager to explore all of the literary elements present at my fingertips. This week I was taken aback when one of my students told me The House on Mango Street will be the first book he has ever completed… ever. I did not understand how this tenth grader had never finished a book on his own. He told me that without my mentor teacher taking the time to read some chapters aloud to the class, he may have not been engaged enough to keep reading it. Although reading aloud may feel elementary to many of us who consider ourselves more experienced readers, it is essential to take the time to look at the hearts of our readers and see what they need to succeed.
There are so many resources we have as teachers to help our students succeed with their reading, but what it really requires is taking the time to know the hearts of our readers – the hesitations, the fears, the insecurities, the interests, the inspirations each of our students feel and experience. After all, the experience is central to the impact a text can have, and we do not want our students to miss out on all the wonderful things about reading. That being said, what can we do to engage these readers again? Through our readings and our unit planning projects, I have been looking for tools to bring to my students to help them along the way. I loved the idea of passing out bookmarks that have multiple uses. I began thinking through and drafting designs for a bookmark tool that is double-sided with a couple different tools. One side would have annotation tips and reading strategies for students to reference as they read. The other side would have space for students to note vocabulary words they come across that they may want to look up to aid their understanding. I hope to create a tool to use with my students as we take on our November unit together and for the spring semester. Hopefully, equipping students with the tools they can use to confidently take on a book and, eventually, succeed in making it through a work will awaken some of the dormant readers in our classrooms!
For now, we should take the time to not only teach our students, but really get to know them. If I have learned anything from being in the classroom so far, it is that students want their voices to be heard and they genuinely appreciate it when someone (especially a teacher or authority figure) take the time to listen to what they have to say. If I had not taken the time to talk a little bit with the students about how they felt about the book, I would not have known my student had not ever finished a single book and I would not have seen the pride in his eyes when realizing he would soon meet this accomplishment. Moments like this should keep us inspired to keep developing as a professional educator to achieve these moments of success with our students! So, here’s to hopefully many more successes like this one & to developing more resources for our students to succeed!