Margin Notes

When You Teach A Reader Instead Of The Book


This morning I was reading a chapter of Nancie Atwell and Anne Atwell Merkel’s The Reading Zone which includes Daniel Pennac’s, “The Reader’s Bill of Rights”.

The Reader’s Bill of Rights
1. The right to not read
2. The right to skip pages
3. The right to not finish
4. The right to reread
5. The right to read anything
6. The right to escapism
7. The right to read anywhere
8. The right to browse
9. The right to read out loud
10. The right to not defend your tastes
Daniel Pennac (1992)

I took a few minutes to think about how great it would be if this was the reality for all our students, especially #10, the right to not defend your tastes, which essentially means giving students choice when it comes to their reading and honouring where they are in their reading lives.
As a reading teacher, I have spent a great deal of time selling books to students by talking about them. When I introduce a new title to a class and ask who wants to read it, I might get, at most, 5 students who want to read each title, because what students want to read is as diverse as they themselves are. Often times I am surprised that a certain student doesn’t want to read a title I am recommending and other times I am surprised when they do. But the message that students have their own tastes when it comes to reading is always loud and clear.
Pick up any reading research and you will repeatedly hear the same message: students who choose their own books read more. And, students who read more achieve more-check out this infographic of Kelly Gallagher’s Why Read. And, as explained in The Reading Zone, students who are not provided this choice “…don’t get to answer for themselves, the single most important question about book reading: why would anyone want to?”

In building an authentic reading community in a classroom, each member of that community should feel valued as a reader. To feel valued students must be able to read books because they want to, not because they have been told to. This is why teachers take the time to build classroom libraries that offer a wide range of titles and genres and authors for students, because we want them to have autonomy over their reading lives, so that the reading doesn’t stop when the bell rings, or the book ends, or summer arrives. Because when you teach a reader instead of a book, you are creating a reader for life.

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