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Competing Ideas of Reading

It is always interesting when the roles of educator and mother connect….or collide. This past summer, my oldest was required to read The Poisonwood Bible for his Honors English class. I was thrilled he was going to spend time reading, but less than thrilled with the fact that there was no degree of choice with the text selection and a great deal of required writing to track his responses throughout the book. As a teacher mom, I read the book before he did so I could support his reading and engage in conversation with him as he read on his own. Admittedly, I struggled to get through the book. Yes, I could read it. Yes, I could understand it. But… No, I would not have chosen to read this book on my own. No, I would not have chosen to write a character trait and question for every single chapter in the book. All 543 pages.

As the start of the school year came near, we spent a great deal of time reading the book together. Yes, we complained he would not have chosen this book. Yes, we complained he had to write something for every single chapter. But…. Yes, he learned how to change the way he read based on the required task. Yes, it made him a more flexible, open-minded reader. And I’m left grappling with two conflicting ideas:

Yes, readers MUST have voice and choice in their own reading, but…. there is value in learning how to read a book that was not of our choosing, something that will happen in our adult lives.

Yes, readers MUST read books that are at the right instructional level for them, but….. there is value in challenging yourself as a reader, as long as appropriate supports are provided.

As we read together, we learned valuable lessons about staying the course with a book, talking with others to support our learning and opening our minds to new ideas. Who would have thought that a 14 year old boy would have learned lessons from 4 women in the Congo?

As we finished our reading in the car, waiting for his siblings to finish practice, I looked in the rear view mirror with a smile. He was reading, he was writing and he was thinking. I would not have chosen this particular reading experience for him, but we did learn together along the way. My hope is that his school year of reading will be filled with much more choice as a reader and more flexibility for responding in ways that make sense to him based on the particular book he is reading. I’ll be returning to the ideas in Kate Robert’s A Novel Approach to help me frame my thinking around the required, whole class novel and will bring these ideas back to the teachers I work with so we can think forward together. I’d love to hear about your experiences and where you are headed next too!


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