One student suggested that Mondays would make better reading days than Fridays. I will have to take that into consideration for next year. Typically I find that so many more students are absent Fridays than any other day of the week that having a day without an assignment means less make-up work for missing students. Anyway, today they read for thirty minutes, then went around the room and shared 15 seconds about their book. In a perfect world, this forced everyone to read at least some of their book.
One of my more eclectic non-readers asked me to pick out a “really hard” book for her from my collection; she had previously read The Odyssey, so I gave her Seamus Hearney’s translation of Beowulf. She asked for a pronunciation guide for the old English, so I printed her that. Five minutes later she gave up on it: “I don’t like poems.” Um, Homer writes poems.
I then gave her Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Bluest Eye, thinking these were pretty “hard” books (I read them in AP English senior year). She nixed these too. I then gave her a Margaret Peterson Haddix book – more middle school level, but a great author nonetheless. Nope.
At this point, while everyone else was reading and she staring into space, I ask her what gives – how could she give up so easily? She replies, “Well, I read two pages and it just didn’t seem good.”
Two pages? TWO pages?!! I was always taught to give a book at least 30-40 pages before giving up on it. An author can’t even introduce one character in the first two pages, let alone the exciting plot that could lay in store. I told her this, and she responded, “Well, in elementary school they told us read just a paragraph.”
I almost lost it. Now, I am a lifelong reader; I love reading. I’ve loved reading as long as I can remember, and I have difficulty coming to grips with the fact that most of the world is not like me. It added insult to injury when she added, “I make up books in my head in about 25 minutes. They are way more exciting that anything I can read. Besides, I like reading articles and comic books.”
After everyone did their book talk in her class, I laid into this misconception that books are supposed to hook you in two pages. Perhaps that worked when they were reading Superfudge or Junie B. Jones, but this isn’t second grade. They’re not seven, they’re seventeen. I emphasized that reading whole text books (not “How to Be a Zombie,” as one boy keeps trying to convince me is a real book) actually changes the brain and teaches it to think more abstractly, big-picture – like an adult should. I told them they can continue to read content for seven-year-olds, but to plan to continue to have a brain that functions at a seven-year-old level. Reading comic books triggers the same part of the brain that watching television does. I found a great quote on the internet today in the comments of a BookandReader post – “It’s said that a picture paints a thousand words; I’d rather read the thousand words. With a picture I can see the place; with a thousand words I can taste it.” Anyway, this idea that they only have to read a few pages is ridiculous. And I told her that. The fact that a Nobel prize-winning Princeton professor like Toni Morrison wasn’t able to hold her attention says a lot more about my students than it does about Ms. Morrison…