Summer Reading – Why is it so hard?

Being a teacher and a parent brings some unique challenges.

I suppose some teachers reading this post may have gone through this and can empathize. Maybe you see yourselves here. Maybe not. In any case, I am going through a parental crises at the moment.

You see, I want my daughter to read more. I don’t think she is reading enough. I have said it to her. I have said it to my wife. I have, in the past, said it to her teachers. I have now said it in this blog.

Guess what?

It does not matter.

What I say and what I do don’t really matter. This is a cold hard fact. One that’s disturbing to an over-involved dad. But a fact nonetheless.

Now don’t get me wrong. My daughter is a strong student. She works hard and listens in class. She even does her homework and all “required” reading without fuss. But I know-as a professional kidwatcher and studier of teaching and learning-that she is not reading enough. I have created tons of classrooms of readers. I have watched rooms stuffed with kids quickly fall into the spell of books just minutes after they burst in from recess. But I’ll be damned if I can get my own kid to sit for an hour with a good book. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but if I don’t hound her, she does not read much.

Where is the love of books, the internal drive to learn new stuff, or the need to be immersed in story?

We shelve the iPads and iPods and buy bookshelves full of books. We go to the library. We read out loud as a family. I read in front of her all of the time. These actions have some effect, but…

It’s not enough.

So I took a step back and decided to do what I tell teachers to do. I decided to watch her. In doing so, I learned-or, more accurately, re-learned-an essential fact. The person in charge of her learning is not and never will be me.

She is in charge of her learning.

She decides how engaged she will be. She decides what she will take from the books. It does not matter how much cajoling and prodding her mother or I do. In the end, she has to decide to do it or it will not be done.

This is a basic fact of education that I seemed to have forgotten as a parent. We can’t make kids learn anything. We can create the context for thinking and engagement. We can present information. But in the end, kids decide how much work they will do.

In this specific case here is what we are learning:

  • Forget book level. If we want engagement and motivation, she has to be free to decide what she wants to read-without our two cents.
  • She has to be free to put a book down. If she does not like it, she won’t read it. That is a simple fact. Some books suck. Some are too hard. But she needs to decide these things-not us.
  • We need a set reading time each day. No phones or TV or iPads. That goes for us as well. We learned that at night, if we all read starting around 7:30 or so, she will read with us and often complain that she has to turn out the light.
  • Talk about what we are all reading. She, it turns out, is interested in the crap that I read. She finds it interesting when I say I like or don’t like a book or article. I need to ask her (not quiz her) about what turns her on about the book she is reading. By the way, don’t accept “it’s nice” or “it’s good” as an answer. “It’s nice” or “the characters are cool” are codes for “I don’t have a freakin clue what this book is about.” I have learned to say, “I’m reading this thing, and I think this writer (or character) is totally unbelievable here. Look at this line…” Then I ask, “What stuck out for you in your book?”

This is still a work in progress. But it has reminded me that motivation is the key to students doing the work they need to grow and develop. We can’t make them grow or learn. But if we focus on what stimulates and motivates them, we have a chance at engaging them in the work they need to do. This does not mean just letting them do what they want. In my own house, reading is a non-negotiable. We all need to read to learn. The tricky part is taking the steps necessary in allowing her into the conversation. She needs to drive it. When I drive the learning, we end up hitting a wall.

As teachers this is absolutely critical to remember as we begin turning our attention to planning for the school year to begin. How can we help our students drive their learning? I plan to spend the next few blog posts thinking about this more. I will be anxious to hear what you do to motivate the children in your care.

Lastly, my daughter just finished Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. She loved it but found it disturbing. “Not a before-bedtime book,” she said. Her next challenge-what to read next. I’ll keep you posted.