Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reading Growth Through My Students' Eyes

As I continue to reflect on my students' final exams, and learn from them, I come to the question that I wasn't sure about when the kids wrote it: What does reading mean and has that changed? If I can predict what they'll say, I worry about the value of the question, and I knew the definition would be positive, and for some students, that would show a change...But as I read, and as I thought back on the changes in their attitudes in just 18 weeks, I'm glad the question is there. This question wasn't for me -- it was for them. They wanted to think about and talk about what reading means to them now.

I've said before, my class is not made up of omnivorous readers, although I do have some avid book-enhalers. My class is a true mixed bag, and I think that's part of the strength. Kids have remarked about how many different students take my class...trouble-makers, perfect students, ELL students, good kids who never give teachers trouble. They're all here. Kids who haven't read a book ever, haven't read since elementary. Kids who have fake-read their way through high school, buying Cliffs Notes and calling it good. They're all here.

One boy wrote me a note about his plans for class: he was going to find a friend to join him in making merry -- disrupting class, talking, kicking back and visiting. He was shocked and dismayed to discover, as he sat pretending to read, that everyone else was engaged in his or her book. He couldn't catch eyes with anyone. He told me he reluctantly started to read his own book and never looked back.

Another girl explained she loved my class because of the democratic nature of it. Other electives self-select students so kids don't get a chance to be with different kinds of students. Here, I've had a tough guy who, when he slapped The Contender closed for the last time, announced with pride that was the first book he'd ever read. It's not too often that he's in a class with National Merit Scholars, cheers and poms, foreign exchange students, college-bound students...all together, all supportive, but all independently pursuing goals, independently reading and writing.The common task of reading gives us all a sense of community and we all respect the differences in our identities at North.

Students are able to take the class more than one time, and some kids try to minor in R4P.  We pitched this change because in a second or third semester, students will be reading new books, facing new comprehension challenges. Since the curriculum is set by students' choices of books and my responding to them, taking the class over is highly beneficial. It is to the climate of my class, too. The returning students know the drill...they act as role models, almost co-teachers in many ways. Their leadership helps us coalesce as a class much faster..

Students do define reading very differently at the beginning of the semester and the end. Words I've heard at the beginning of the semester are: boring, a chore, required, something they're forced to do, hard...I could go on, but the picture is clear These are NOT the eager children they were in their first grade classes, knowing their job was to learn to read. Some have become distracted by other activities, but some have become so beaten down...they've lost hope that there's a book out there for them.

Many kids come to my class assuming it's going to be one more way for the school to prove to them they're not strong, not good enough.They're afraid I'm going to show their weaknesses to the world.  I try to encourage with words, but it's got to be the books that change their minds, about their own strengths and attitudes, and about books. Every book they read, they're stronger readers and more confident readers.

So, as their attitudes, experiences, abilities are so different, their definitions of reading are as well. But a semester of positive, successful encounters with books does make its mark. They have grown as readers, and they can articulate that fact. They're eager to talk about their growth. We can see it in their answer to the question:  What does reading mean to you? How has that changed this semester?

  • Reading actually means a lot to me now. I read when I’m stressed and I need to cool down. I read for entertainment, I read for information. I read to enrich my vocabulary. The list just keeps going
  • Reading has always been a core, but now it’s a hobby that I love I will now be a reader for life!
  • Reading is a glimpse into the collective human consciousness
  • Reading is a way for me to learn about people and subject I am interested in, as well as to be entertained every once in a while
  • Reading is a way to go on an adventure.
  • Reading is an escape for me. I love watching what an author can pull together to make a story.
  • Reading makes me feel like I’m in a whole new other world, looking at something from a different perspective.
  • Reading means a lot to me because it helps us escape the problems we’re dealing with and find pleasure.
  • Reading means exploring the unknown to me.
  • Reading means I can step out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. Explore what would happen if, for instance, a clown jumped from the ferris wheel over a shark-infested ocean and become friends with the sharks, learned their habits and mated with one!
  • Reading means learning about others without even talking to them because you can relate to them; it means I can go to Africa while in the bath tub. It means I can hear how someone else dealt with what I’m going through. Reading means I can share knowledge with others and I love that.
  • Reading means learning to me. Reading used to be boring but now I have found good books. I can do whatever I set my mind to
  • Reading means more to me now than it did before I had this class.
  • Reading means the key to knowledge for me because you learn so much from one book
  • Reading means to be in a huge fictional world
  • Reading means to me that I’ve accomplished something. I read better and understand things in class
  • Reading to me is a new-found glory.
  • Reading to me is a way to inhabit worlds and fantasies where anything is possible. Where magic is rea and the good guy always wins.
  • Reading to me is educational, inspiring, distracting, comforting, fun and entertaining. Not only do I read faster, but I understand more. I get more emotionally attached
  • Reading to me is like meditation. All of your worries in life are swept away by a new world. I get a sort of meditating sensation out of reading
  • Reading used to be something that was forced upon me at times and something that was dreaded. Now reading is something that is fun and that I do as my choice instead of ‘having’ to read
  • Reading used to just be something for me to do. Now, it has grown to be an escape, a way to cope, a way to find answers to life’s questions or whatever I need ti to be
  • To me reading is a gateway to another world
  • To me reading means escaping this world to enter a new one. At the beginning of the semester, all reading meant to me was opening a book and reading the words. 



  1. Claudia, what a fantastic job you have done of creating these conditions. Kudos! Your students are lucky to have you and you are blessed to be in a school that allows you to offer this course.

    Mad props from Indianapolis!

  2. Susan, I KNOW how lucky I am! My administration is very supportive, and word-of-mouth has really grown the class. Kids SEE it helps them. I'm so lucky they keep coming back. We laugh and say 'they pay me to read!' But everyone here knows it's much more!

    I'm a Hoosier, born and bred -- born in Sullivan, south of Terre Haute, raised in Merrillville, south of Gary, and two degrees from IU at Bloomington. My first teaching job was in Martinsville, between Bloomington and Indy! We're almost neighbors!

    Thanks for finding me and commenting.