This week, I would like to talk about a book I recently read and learned so much from, Book Love by Penny Kittle. Penny is a high school English teacher and is committed to teaching her students to become not simply test takers but life long readers. This book was written specifically for middle and high school teachers, but many of the ideas can be adapted for elementary teachers as well.
The Common Core State Standards were written to ensure that students were prepared for college and careers. What we have found is that our traditional standards were not adequately preparing students for the rigorous demands of post secondary education. In this book, Kittle contends that 200-600 pages a week of homework is common in colleges. How many of our high school students are prepared for that? The answer… Not many. When she polled the students that attend her high school, she found that about 20% of students said they read books regularly, about 30% read a book or two a year, and the remaining 50% said they did not read books at all. (p142)
Why is that? Kittle believes that many of our students are not given books that are relevant or interesting to them. In an attempt to expose students to high quality and classic literature, many kids become turned off by reading. In fact, kids aren’t reading at all; they are “fake reading”. That is they are reading SparkNotes or getting main ideas from Internet summaries, or simply figuring out what happened in their assigned reading based on classroom discussion. Yet, these are the books that many well-meaning teachers are assigning fully cognizant that their students aren’t actually reading them.
Teachers want to expose students to great literature and to be able to think deeply and critically about it. But the deep reading that we are looking for our students to be capable of does not come from the 3 assigned novel studies per year that students are currently asked to do. It comes from voracious reading. “To be engaged with deep reading of literature, you first have to be comfortable with words, lots of them, over hundreds of pages.” (p.23) Once students become readers, they will be better able to handle the more challenging texts that we assign.
In order to get students ready for this kind of thinking, they need two things, access to lots of books that will meet their interests and their abilities, and TIME to read. This is something that all teachers never have enough of… time! And some teachers feel that class time is too valuable to “just let students read.” But Kittle has a problem with this way of thinking! “It makes no sense. We give students time to work on projects. We give them time to watch two hour videos of the books we teach. We give them time to sit and listen to other students discuss a book they didn’t read the night before. We consider those valid uses of time, but not reading. Why not?” (p.68)
In addition to time and books that they can read, Kittle also recommends student goal setting. This goal setting allows student to look not only at number of books read, but also text complexity. Her goal setting is a 5 Step Process:
1. Determine text difficulty: Students look at books they have read and decide how to measure their difficulty. (see photo from page 125)
2. Determine reading rate: Students calculate the number of pages they read each week for the quarter.
3. Students write mini-reviews of favorite books: These can be used as book talks for other students! And it teaches them essential summary writing.
4. After reflecting on steps 1-3, students set goals for themselves for the next quarter.
5. Students write a reflective essay on their quarter of reading and their new goal for themselves.
This process is explained very well in this blog by Erica Beaton, a high school English teacher in Michigan. She uses Teri Lesesne’s Reading Ladders to have students assess the complexity of their texts and set goals for where they want to be in their reading.
Penny Kittle, in her quest to get more teachers to embrace the kind of teaching that will instill a love of reading in their students, has founded The Book Love Foundation – a non-profit org with one goal: to put books in the hands of teachers of teenagers. “We seek passionately committed teachers who will aim instruction toward increasing volume, stamina, and joy in reading in middle and high school.” (page 169) Each year, the foundation will give 500 books to as many classrooms as they can. You can get more information at www.booklovefoundation.org
Penny ends this great book with the following:
We can change the story of reading.
We have to.
Every child. Every year. Every classroom.
Book love – pass it on.