I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Savannah, not about the warm Southern city, but about one of my former students with that Georgian nomenclature.
Savannah is a voracious reader. Each school year, she slams 40+ books with no problem.
Well, wait, there is a problem.
She’s failing nearly all of her classes.
Savannah has such a passionate love of reading that she ignores all academic requirements. She has no grit when it comes to anything assigned to her. This girl—while a lover of all things Janet Evanovich—will not complete a Bio lab report, persevere through The Catcher in the Rye, or debate the biggest causes of the Great Depression.
Some teachers might say, “Well that’s okay. No one should be forced to read anything they don’t want to. We’ve got to teach them how to be passionate readers.”
The thing is, Savannah will never lose her love of reading.
If I don’t help her to read things beyond her realm of interest, she’s going to lose out on life opportunities. She is not going to survive in this world.
With no grit, she will continue to fail her core classes. She will not be able to get into college. Most likely, she will not rise above her family’s place stuck in the cycle of poverty, and—sadly—that’s not the worst of it. An inability to read means a readiness to be taken advantage of. Without much change, Savannah might not have the privilege to truly flourish as an adult.
I’d like to be naïve and think that endless choice reading can solve all the world’s problems and that my only goal as an ELA teacher is make kids passionate about books, but I live in a world outside my classroom.
I recognize that it is my professional responsibility to provide an environment for my students that will help them eventually be successful outside of school.
I know I’m making waves here—especially with my friends—but it’s important for us to talk about this. If we only devote time to choice reading, we’re committing teacher malpractice. The same goes if I said we should only to teach shared, whole-class novels. We need both in order to help kids really flourish.
For the last few years, I’ve been sharing tips about how to get kids to do more choice reading, hold them accountable, do book speed-dating and book waterfalls, etc. I am fortunate to be connected to teachers, like you, who are inspiring and sharing your love of choice reading with your students.
For me though, I’m finding that it isn’t enough.
If we’re going to help kids like Savannah succeed, really succeed, and engage in society, then we need to help them love reading and have the ability to tackle anything that we throw at them.
Because we can’t deny the truth, life requires a lot more than a Janet Evanovich novel.
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