I think reading is the most important thing to teach. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how yet.
Reading closely takes a long time, even for skilled readers. To really read something — to look at a text, annotate it, think about it, and reflect on it — takes significant focus, effort, and time.
Problem: Teachers and students aren’t on the same page. We haven’t been truthful and honest with each other about reading.
Students fake-read or rush-read. Reading is private and isn’t turned in, so it’s done last. If there is something to turn in (e.g., reading questions, reading responses, quote analyses), that’s done in lieu of reading. If I’m a student and have two hours to do three hours of homework, reading is the first to go.
Teachers fake-assign reading. To create a sense of rigor, we assign 20-30 pages a night. We either get mad when students don’t complete it, or we convince ourselves they’re reading when really they’re not.
The answer, of course, is to assign less reading and to teach texts more deeply. But my fear is this: If I reduce my reading assignments so that they’re more realistic, am I lowering my standards? More important, would my students return the favor and read more closely, or would they just end up reading even less?
This week, I’m trying an experiment. Over Thanksgiving Break, students must read their first book for their Theme Study. No additional assignments: no essays, no thought journals, no nothing. Just read and annotate.
(Actually, there is one thing: Next Sunday night, they’ll leave a one-minute message on my Google Voice.)
My hope is that my students will read more deeply and feel accomplished. My hope is that I’m sending a message that reading is central and primary to my class — that I value reading.
When we get back next Monday, I’ll do follow up to see if my experiment was a success. Did students read more? Or did my idea backfire?