Friday, 10 June 2016

Sharing My Reading Life

I don't know about you, but I can't remember a time when reading wasn't an integral part of my life.  It isn't something I do on the side or an 'added extra'; it's actually part of who I am.  So it was almost impossibly difficult, for me, to fathom a life that didn't have 'to read' piles in most rooms, a passionate opinion about folded corners v bookmarks and friends who exist only in my imagination and on the pages in which we met.  Until I met my husband. 

He is, most definitely, not a reader. Don't get me wrong, he read. He enjoyed it actually, but it didn't bring him the same core deep satisfaction. I struggled with this for a long time: how could he just get into bed and go to sleep? What did he do whilst waiting for an appointment? Where did he escape? Here was a way of life that made no sense to me. I questioned him. I nagged him (oh yeah, there's that wife of the year nomination again). I interviewed him about possible reading traumas in his childhood.  I even engaged in some serious guerilla reading propaganda attacks to bring about change. 

It didn't work. I realised that my approach was completely wrong. My goal was to convince him that he should read, and that he should love it. Ha! How foolish!

And how reminiscent of so many of the ways we teach reading in schools. We tell our students that they must read and we expect them to engage with the process willingly, if not happily. We offer intervention for those who struggle to read, and fret over those who won't. It's a lot like my guerilla attacks.

You know what? None of that works either. Kids, just like my husband, don't end up loving reading because we make them read or because we tell them they should.

I eventually wore out and concluded that my husband was - and don't get me wrong, I love him dearly - deeply flawed and beyond my capacity to help. (Oops, did I just say that out loud?) I let go. I stopped nagging. I stopped questioning. I stopped reading (excuse the pun) into everything he ever said about his childhood. I stopped planting books. And went back to my own reading life. I started talking about my books. I shared funny little anecdotes that I knew would make him chuckle. I made connections between what I was reading and what was going on in the world. I allowed my reading to become part of our shared life. 

What happened next is hardly a surprise to anyone. He started reading more. Slowly at first, and still not with the same feverish obsession as I do but with his own quiet commitment. 

Here's my theory. It's, like, totally scientific and stuff. It's also GROUNDBREAKINGLY NEW!!! So much of what we do at school rams reading down the throats of our students as something they have to do and be good at. It's not about learning to love the possibilities of reading. And it should be. As Victor Hugo said: 'to learn to read is to light a fire'. Or as Frederick Douglass said: 'once you learn to read you will be forever free'. This is the very essence of what we need to teach students. Once we teach the value of reading, the rest becomes easy. (Please don't think I'm discounting dyslexia or other such issues. They're real. So. Real. And they need more research and student who live with them need more support. This treatise includes these kiddos, but I'm not suggesting that this answers those particular needs.) 

How do we do it? I think we should share our own love of reading. Talk about books. Share funny, sad or powerful parts of our own reading.  Make connections between our own reading, and events that are relevant to the students. Discuss books our students might not yet be able to read but may create a spark. Model our own reading life and the value it has for us.  It's not rocket surgery but I'd go as far as saying that it's more important though.

Let's give it a go. I made a commitment to share more of my reading life/love with my students at the beginning of this week and it's already had an impact. I'll give it a couple of weeks and report back. Who will join me?
 'I love books. I love that moment when  you open one and sink into it. You can escape from the world into a story that's way more interesting than yours will ever be.' 
~ Elizabeth Scott
This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers:
Standard 1 Know the students and how they learn
Standard 2 Know the content and how to teach it
Standard 3 Plan for and implement effective teaching and learning
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments


  1. Hmmm. Did I read this blog? Did I chuckle at the anecdotes? Am I fundamentally and deeply flawed? (No one has ever accused me of being deep before.) Thank you for "encouraging" me to read again.

    1. "Encouraging" huh? You noticed my feverish desperation? Darn, I thought I played it pretty cool. Good thing I'm not a drama teacher! Thanks for reading. (Although I will add, for everyone else's sake, that I did push you to read this.)