“I hate reading.” No three words frustrate me more than these. What enrages me about this phrase is that it is a lie. Students love reading. They read hundreds of texts and newsfeeds every day. They just hate boring reading.
But ultimately, what frustrates me most is that we teachers create this perception by killing the joy of reading. How do we kill it? By being terrible matchmakers.
Reading a book is like dating. Here’s why:
1. It’s often disastrous to judge a book by its cover.
Just watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette for guaranteed support of this idea.
2. We don’t hate relationships. We just hate terrible, boring relationships.
We don’t hate reading. We hate terrible, boring reading. So, saying we hate reading altogether is like saying we hate all boys or all girls. We just haven’t found the right person or the right book. Sure, we can convince ourselves that we really do hate boys or girls. But then we’ll end up old and lonely with 30 cats.
3. Sometimes we have to get through a few dates before we really know whether the relationship is worth it.
When my wife and I were first dating, I lived alone in a 400-square-foot apartment covered in wood panelling. I had a few colonies of ants as roommates (I was big on the whole “live and let live” philosophy). I wore pants that flooded and had an atrocious haircut. Thankfully, my wife is an incredibly patient, insightful woman and gave it some time in our relationship.
Similarly, books can be really boring in their exposition. The first few pages (dates) are often awkward and filled with a lot of background talk. Just as we may benefit from a certain number of dates before bailing on the relationship, we can set a benchmark number of pages before quitting. Surprises may surface as we get to know our date.
4. Breakups are OK.
Ever known a person who just will not realize how terrible his/her significant other is? As friends, we often find it is our duty to help the person out and identify the thousand “red flags.” Do we allow the same escape plans for reading?
Maybe if we approached reading in our classrooms like dating, we wouldn’t be such atrocious matchmakers. Sometimes we are like obsessive aunts and uncles who insist that we have the perfect date for our students. We found a “classic” we like (comes from a nice pedigree, real smart, real nice), not just for one student but for dozens of different human beings.
We then create an arranged marriage in which we force our kids to go on date after date, no matter how much they can’t stand the relationship. We say things like, “Just wait until ______.” Can you imagine saying, “Just wait until you two are married with three kids. Then you’ll love each other!”
If we want students to love reading, we have to teach them to approach reading like dating—and then let them date freely.
Now, if you are like me, you have set curricula that requires certain texts. Rather than bucking the system (and getting fired as a result), we can all find ways for students to increase their free reading time. Let them read at bell work, after tests, as they wait for the bell to ring. Heck, we could do a lot worse than provide even just one hour for them to read—to truly read with a self-guided purpose.
So, if you’re ready to make your students love reading, then help them be lovers with the tips below.
And if you want to take your matchmaking skills to the next level, set up a reading speed date.
Step 1: Know your audience.
If you’re going to be a good matchmaker, get to know your students’ likes, dislikes, interests, frustrations, reading abilities—everything you can. With this knowledge in hand, find as many books as you can. I try to find at least three potential books for every student. Challenging and time-consuming? Yes. But it’s worth it. Use your local or school librarian or consult other teachers. (Tip: Frequently “banned” books are like the dates Mom and Dad ban you from seeing).
Step 2: Set the mood.
At tables or desks, spread out an assortment of books. Mix them or keep them together by genre. Light some candles and play some D’Angelo in the background if you want to creep the kids out. Otherwise, just the tables and books will do.
Step 3: Set the expectations.
Post students up at a mingling table. I’ve found benefit in letting a few students sit at a table with a wide assortment of books. Require students to spend some silent time browsing, perusing and reading. Make sure you coach them on skipping the boring stuff like “Acknowledgements” at the beginning.
After some silent one-on-one time, though, let them gossip about their dates before rotating to the next station.
Step 4: Play Cupid.
Pre-brief with certain students about particular titles to “keep an eye out for.” But don’t get too emo if your matchmaking isn’t successful and they choose something different. Even Cupid makes mistakes.
Step 5: Use speed-dating reflection cards.
Hand students a few reflection cards (example below). As they come across a potential match, have them note the information. In the event that someone else swoops the book off its feet, they’ll have some backup dates. Collecting these cards will also help your matchmaking in the future.
What interests me about it:
After reading a page I'd rate the reading level at:
(Too Easy) (Too Hard)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Who else might like it:
6. Check in.
While students are reading, use this time to conference with a few kids each day. Ask them what they are liking/disliking about the books. Not only will this give you better insight into their approach to reading and style, it helps them develop metacognition about why they don’t like a certain book. This “why” is critical in helping students pinpoint dislikes and break the belief that all books are useless. If the dates aren’t going well, help them find a rebound.
7. Let them enjoy dating.
Nothing kills the mood like forced expectations in the relationship. Now, this may be hard to consider, but what if we didn’t make students read for a grade? Remember: Kids don’t hate reading. They will read for enjoyment. If a student isn’t reading, it’s not a sign that we need to force an assignment for accountability; it’s a sign that we need to work harder to help the student find the right book.
Feel free to post your experiences with read-dating below. Can you sense the reality show deal!?
Chase Mielke is a learning junkie who happens to have a love affair with teaching. A book addict by night and a teacher and instructional coach by day, he fantasizes about old libraries and fresh Expo Markers. His obsessions with psychology, well-being and cognition often live on his blog, affectiveliving.wordpress.com.