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Have You Praised a Reader Today?

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Staggering out of bed at 5:00 am, I boot up my laptop and start typing sub plans. I hate to be absent, but my swollen throat and painful ear leave me no choice. I begin my plans with the same opening paragraphs I have used before:

Dear Sub,

Thank you for coming to my class today. The students are great and I know that you will have an enjoyable day with them. Please talk with my teaching partner next door if you have any questions about my plans or need help.

When students enter the classroom, they should get out their books and read. This is not free time or study hall, but an important part of our reading class. Do not allow students to work on homework, draw, or play board games…

Now, my students know that they are supposed to read at the beginning of every class, but they are kids, and while the cat’s away… I have been caught by surprise many times when the fine people who have substituted in my room have seen this reading time as free time that I have added to my plans in the absence of something “instructional” to do.

Hopefully, our students know reading is important. Is the only place they hear this message in reading class? What confounds me is the number of adults out there who do not realize that their attitudes may be sending the unintentional message that reading is a waste of time.

Take our recent fieldtrip. Anticipating a long bus ride and a bit of standing around, several of my students brought their books with them.

Seeing children with books in tow, the university docent, who was leading our tour, was annoyed, “They should not have those books.”

I assured her, “They won’t read while we are on the tour. Why shouldn’t they have them?”

Flustered, she said, “Well…they might lose them!”

I think it bugged her that my students might think any part of the fieldtrip was so boring that they might need a diversion. When was the last time she had to sit for an hour on a school bus?

I have been approached on the playground and gently advised that one of my students, a soccer champ, should put down her book and get some exercise. I have been told that it is dangerous to let my students walk down the hall reading. I had a colleague tell me a few years ago that I was preventing a student from developing his social skills because I let him read at lunch. When I pointed out to her that he was elected by the other kids as our class student council representative, she dropped it.

Perhaps, having only seen reading take place within the confines of a school desk cage, these well-meaning adults no longer recognize what reading looks like in the wild.

This misunderstanding doesn’t end when school does. My husband, a lifetime reader, takes on the mystique of the last passenger pigeon when other commuters waiting for the train eye him with his latest book.

Yes, I think exercise, socializing, and fieldtrips are valuable parts of my students’ education, but let’s not forget that they learn a lot about behavioral norms from us, too. If the adults with whom children come in daily contact don't encourage their reading habits, what message are we sending?

So, have you praised a reader today? One outside of a classroom? They are out there-- I promise. Scope out those buses, lunchrooms, and lines; find yourself a reader, and praise them loud and clear. You might be doing more for that child, and everyone within earshot, than anything else you planned to do today.

5 Comments

Unfortunately, some children do not know what reading looks like in the wild either. I read books and niche market specialty magazines on public transportation and more often than not I have children noticing that I am reading.

As I teacher I encourage students to read for pleasure and often reading gives some shy students something to talk about because it builds confidence.

When I mentioned to students that I was in a book club it floored them that adults have time to read!

Here's a simple idea: get one of those little plate holders you would normally use to display china. Use it on your desk to display whatever book you're reading. The students always ask about it!

I am never without a book or magazine when I have to wait anywhere. You are right; it is an excellent witness.

My students often ask about my vocabulary. I tell them how reading makes the difference!

Thanks for the tip about displaying books. I will use it.

I love the title of your piece...have I praised a reader today? Oh, yes! I teach a high school elective: Reading for Pleasure. I spent the day with 153 students, all reading different books, all finding some pleasure (some not so much...yet!) in the task. But your challenge is for me to praise them every day. Since this is the third week of the semester, some have yet to find that book that will keep them interested; but, two finished books today with a glow of pride. One young girl told me she couldn't believe she read her book in just two weeks! I did congratulate her with excitement. But, just wait! She'll top that in no time. I'll go back tomorrow, praising more readers, visiting your blog for a kindred soul. Thank you!

My oldest daughter is an avid reader and I all too well remember the many comments I got while she was growing up about her reading. I was cautioned by her teacher that she should not read at recess (even though she also was an avid soccer player outside of school and I was assured that her lack of activity at recess did not lead to a lack of focus in class). There were also several neighbors that relayed to me their 'concerns' about my daughter because (horror) she had her nose in a book on the way home from school. Since our whole family reads, we have tried to teach our children the social graces of reading at appropriate times and when it is better to put a book down and engage socially, but I did not see why these occasions were a problem.

My daughter has remained physically active, is well adjusted socially and has many good friends. She still reads for pleasure and relaxation while in college studying engineering and she purposefully chose a college of engineering that values a liberal arts education as well. Isn't this what we want in our future citizens?

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