Why Reading Is Important and How I Get My Students Excited About It
by Eleanore Maclean, AmeriCorps member on the Bank of America team with Young Achievers Science and Math Pilot K-8 School
Derrick*, one of the third graders I work with, reads at a mid-fourth grade level, yet he never finishes more than two or three pages of his book during independent reading. I started sitting next to Derrick, curious to know how, exactly, he spent that half hour. Those first few days went something like this: Derrick sits at his desk, flipping through his Big Nate book. He sets that aside and rummages in his desk for his Amulet book. He looks intently at a few pages, sighs, and slides his chair back to rest his chin on his desk. Meanwhile, I sit next to him reading my book and quietly trying to redirect him.
After about a week:
“What book are you reading?” Derrick asked.
“Love That Dog.” I held up the bright yellow cover with blue type. “It’s one of my favorites. It’s about poetry.”
Derrick eyed the book. “Huh.” He shrugged and went back to flipping through Big Nate. “I like poetry.”
“Do you want to read this with me? I can start over. You read one page, I’ll read the next.”
For the next two days, Derrick and I read Love That Dog. Derrick read for the duration of independent reading each day. He asked thoughtful questions, made insightful connections to the small moment story he’s writing, and told me about his pet. I’d seen this level of engagement from him inconsistently, and I was thrilled to see him enjoying a book I also love.
At the end of Love That Dog, there’s an appendix of the famous poems referenced in the novel. Casually, Derrick asked, “Can we read those too?”
I watched Derrick be as excited about school as I’ve ever seen him as we worked through the appendix. When I asked him which poem he liked best, he named “Love that Dog” by Walter Dean Myers. Perfect. Ms. Allen had another Walter Dean Myers book in the classroom, so we read that, too.
Though he’s an extremely capable student, Derrick sometimes has trouble settling into his morning work. He’s also not always on task during lessons or independent work, though when prompted, he often has thoughtful responses. I told Derrick that I loved getting to read together and hoped we could read more often, but I would also like to see him get right to his morning work so he would be prepared for reader’s workshop.
The next morning, Derrick found me at morning greeting.
“Hi, Ms. Eleanore.” He gave a little wave. “I did all my homework last night.”
“Awesome, Derrick! Can’t wait to check in with you in class.”
Derrick ran off up the steps and into the building. When I came to class, I found him hunched over his morning work, nearly done. His completed homework was out on his desk, even though I don’t collect homework folders until the end of the day.
“I’m so impressed, Derrick!” I told him. “I’m so glad to see you already doing your morning work.”
After morning meeting, amid the shuffling of people and chairs and the rustling of students getting their books out, Derrick eagerly turned to me, his face lit up: “It’s reader’s workshop!”