Do you provide class time for independent reading? If not, consider this: I attended a professional development workshop this week in which participants were asked to prepare by reading “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich. Some workshop participants read the text thoroughly, some skimmed it, and a few didn’t “do their homework.” Now, we are all responsible adults. We are professional educators. Most of us have Masters degrees. In other words, our varying levels of preparedness wasn’t necessarily reflective of our work ethic, or abilities as students, or our interest in and commitment to the topic.
Our workshop facilitator asked us to spend 15 minutes re-reading (or reading for the first time) the text with a guiding question. She pointed out that, although she didn’t love the idea of giving away 15 minutes, this is time that we needed to get back into the text. This was a teaching moment. She wanted to show us the value of giving our students multiple opportunities to access a text. I had read the text, but a second read gave me the chance to add to my annotations and dig more deeply into the text. Those who hadn’t read were given the chance to access the text so that they could participate in the discussion.
Had she decided to save 15 minutes and dive right into the text, our conversation would not have been as rich as it was. We would have missed the opportunity to hear all of our peers’ thoughts about the text; likewise, we would have missed the chance to think about the text in new ways.
We deny our students these opportunities when we don’t provide some reading time in class.
I am not suggesting that we turn every class day into a reading workshop, of course, nor am I suggesting that we eliminate reading as homework. We want students to read outside of class not only because we want to use our precious in-class hours for, well, teaching, but because our students need to read a text multiple times to for different purposes to deepen their understanding of a text (I only need 15 minutes with a short text because I have a Masters degree in Literature and have had years of this kind of practice).
What I’m suggesting is that we extend the same professional courtesy to our students that we expect for ourselves. What I’m suggesting is that we provide an extra invitation to join the discussion, and that we avoid the temptation to penalize students for failing to do what we asked them to do. If we don’t give students the chance to read, we’re blocking them from text-based discussions with their peers in class.
Ultimately, we want students to see that they’ll sound smarter if they actually read and think about the text before class. We want students to understand that they’ll get more out of class time (and grow more academically) if they put in this kind of effort. However, we need to give students the experience of reading, discussing, and taking ownership of texts before they can get to this point.