My heart broke when a former student’s mom told me that her now 6th grade son, Dan, didn’t like to read anymore. I literally cried out, “NO! What happened? He used to love to read in first grade!” He told his mom that, “The teacher assigns all of our books and the only reason we read in school is to take a test.” We are losing our readers when they do not have the opportunity to pick their own books and when every book they read is attached to an assignment. While there is a time and place for reading assignments and grades, I believe that we, as teachers, are failing our students if the only purpose of reading is for a grade!
Here are some ways that you can foster a love of reading in your students:
- Allow students to pick their books—One of the best ways to inspire a love of reading is to allow students to pick books to read that interest them. Student choice is a powerful way to engage our learners. For my student’s independent reading I never assign their books. They have complete ownership of choosing the books that they want to read from our classroom library. I encourage them to try different books and even tell them that it is ok if they don’t like a book. My husband and I are both readers, but we like very different kinds books. Our students are the same way—our classroom is full of unique and wonderfully diverse students. We can’t expect our kids to like the same books as everyone else.
- Have a robust and diverse library—Students need access to quality books. My students know that reading is highly valued in our classroom. I work hard to continually grow and add books to my library and it is possible to do even on a budget! In order to encourage a love of reading in students it is important to have a diverse library of books. I teach my students that “Everyone is different and different is the beauty of life!”—our classroom libraries need to reflect this! I even tell my students that there are books in the library that I don’t enjoy reading and that is ok! For example, I don’t like snake books at all—they creep me out, but some of my kids love them so it’s important to include those in my library.
- Model a love of reading—When our students see our love for reading, it helps spark a love of reading in their hearts too. One of my favorite ways to model a love of reading is through reading to them every day! There are so many benefits to reading aloud to our kids and with a little creativity it is possible to fit read alouds into our already full schedules!
- Build relationships with students as readers—Relationships are foundational to every classroom! One of the first questions I ask my readers is “What do you like?” because learning their interests will help me be able to direct them towards books they may like in our classroom library. If we don’t know our kids, we can’t recommend new books or authors they may like. While I allow my kids to choose their own books to read, I love recommending and introducing them to new books they may love!
Encouraging a love of reading in our students takes some work, but it is so worth it! I’m also excited to share that Dan, the student I talked about at the beginning, is now giving reading for fun another chance. I couldn’t stand the thought that he wasn’t reading any more on his own, so I recommended to him one of my favorite chapter books to try and he loved it. (Margaret Peterson Haddix “Among the Hidden”) The beauty of building relationships with our students is that even though he wasn’t in my classroom anymore our students are always our kids! He even recommended and shared one of his favorite books with me. Books are not just a grade, books are stories that change us and that bring us together!