The first thing I pay attention to when I walk into your house isn’t if the floors are clean. God knows mine usually aren’t. It isn’t the size of your floor plan because for my family, we all end up sitting on the same two cushions of the couch. Nope, it isn’t whether your window treatments are perfect. I have curtains, so I don’t worry too much about that either way. As you may have guessed, I’m not into “things” all that much. But, let me confess now—I am checking out your books. Are they in little piles everywhere? I’ll be your best friend. Do you have an alphabetical bookcase like my friend, Jeff? I will admire you. Are there stacks on a desk? You are one of my tribe. And if you happen to have the need for one of those cool library ladders on wheels, well, I bet we are related somehow.
If you have a Facebook account, someone has probably tagged you in the “name 10 influential books” or “top 10 books that come to mind—don’t think too hard” lists. You might be surprised to learn that I just won’t participate in those. Are you kidding me? It’s like hanging out my underwear for the world to see. I am amazed that everyone so readily spills their Rorschach test for all kinds of analysis right there for the world to see. But then again, they probably aren’t checking to see that you have mentioned at least one feminist, one Beatnik, Shakespeare’s collected works, Zora Neale Hurston, and A Prayer for Owen Meany. If anyone’s list were to meet those qualifications, I long ago decided that I would take that person out to dinner, and we’d form a club of the Coolest Readers Ever.
First, I highly recommend helping students find a series to sink their teeth into. Once they have oriented themselves to the author’s world, style, characters, pacing and themes, it becomes familiar and comforting to delve into another book in the series. I’ve seen this happen in my grade 7-8 classrooms over the last decade: Twilight, Divergent, 39 Clues, Bone, and Harry Potter come to mind. Whenever I see a child who isn’t interested in reading, I recommend a series after giving (or viewing) a book talk.
Second, if a book is too difficult, but a child is deeply in love with it, I make it my business to do two things: help him with the book and find another book that is similar for the child to read independently. I had a young man in seventh grade who was dead set on reading Wicked, which I was pleased with, but also sure he was not able to read and understand without some significant scaffolding. I made a deal with him. If he wanted to read the novel, he should take small chunks, read them, and then stop by to have what I called a “five-minute face to face” with me about it. For our class assignment though, he needed to read something that he could respond to with full comprehension. I suggested a book from the Thursday Next series. Even though they both have a Lexile reading level around 850, I knew he’d find Thursday Next more accessible.
Reading is a tricky proposition. The cognitive load, personal taste, Common Core or curriculum map recommendations, and the time allotted all make a “reading program” impossible to cookie cut. However, Share My Lesson has some resources that make approaching books with your students less haphazard. For example, the English language arts team has awesome Choosing the Right Book printable posters. Even though they are classified as elementary sources, I plan to have these made for my classroom next year, as students continually struggle to find the “just right” book.
As a way to foster teacher/student conversation, I’ve already tweaked a resource called “A Book Report System.” It provides directions for extra credit based on conversations a student has with the teacher about a book read independently. I used this idea with my student who was reading Wicked. To this day, I remember our conversations about the book, and when I finally saw the play this year, I was glad we had struggled through it together. There are always going to be obstacles to overcome when enticing students to read. But I like to think that one day, someone will be looking at their disheveled bookshelves, enjoying a glimpse into a life I helped to create.