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That's a horse of another color: Finding what makes us giddy-up and GO!

Vintage Cowgirl 2Deep breath. This is really a dicey area. How do we help students one, know they must read; two, know that they should read, and three, want to read? Well, perhaps it all gels into one colloidal ooze of humanity – we all have one thing universally in common: we are unique. And because we are unique, we all need to personalize, and internalize, those matters closest to our hearts and soul.

My first year of teaching I had a student who only wanted to read books about horses; primarily fantasy and realistic fiction, but some sort of equine overtone was always at the books’ core. In my earnestness, I tried to have her break out of what I perceived was a rut in reading. (And I was never a ‘horsey” type of girl–sure, would I have like a pony? Well, duh! Even Lisa Simpson has a weakness for pretty ponies, but still…) So, between my biases and trying to be a ‘good teacher of reading,’ I tried, unsuccessfully, in pulling the reins on the horse books. What I probably DID end up succeeding in was making this student feel bad. I could crop myself now, thinking back on it. What was I thinking?! She was reading! And, after all, perhaps if I was so bent on getting her to open up access to other themes, perhaps I just should have said, “Hey (is for horses), I see you like books that have horses. Let’s explore that in genres, and see where that takes you?” Or something like that. I don’t talk like that in real life. I did run into her a year or so after the fact, and a charming young lady was she, and very gracious when I asked her if she was reading other books besides horse tales. She said yes, but I was still a schmuck.

As I alluded to in the post yesterday, the ALA has a good reading interest survey, which I’ve modified over the years. For example: Question No. 6 puzzles me a great deal. “About how many books do you own?”

Well, I know already that many of my students don’t have enough socks and underwear, so I would imagine books are low on the priority list. But, I can’t assume anything. Perhaps the question should be, “Do you know anyone who owns a lot of books? Why do you think they do?”

I confess: I am a bookaholic. (At the risk of having John Spencer call me out on using the suffix “holic” on a word–I know it’s cliche….my apologies!) Anyway, I am. I have no willpower or any modicum of self-control when I am in any bookstore, whether it’s a big box chain bookstore or the local (and diminishing) locally-owned one, or if I’m on an on-line bookstore. Imagine a swirling, sparkling vortex of gauzy purple smoke hovering over my brain, and this ‘woooo—woooooooo……” sound humming from some unknown shadowy source.A wave of confusion and hypnotic command takes over my higher brain functions, and the next thing I know the debit card is in my hand, the order has been placed, and we are scrambling for groceries for two weeks.

I buy a lot of books.

And…I also collect a variety of reading materials, wherever I can scrounge them. If I’m in the city, and there’s one of those tourist pamphlet stands, I grab all I can. Business cards, menus, magazines, catalogs, fortune cookie slips, etc., I gather and horde. Their use is simple: when it comes to understanding that reading is everywhere, I simply put all of this reading material on tables around the room, and have students actively look through as much as they can. They categorize, analyze, and simonize. Well, not the last one. But, the goal is, if they find something that looks like a promising possibility, they write the title/type down. Then…read. And then, think. Did they like it? Why, why not? Who are they now and why did this book fit, or not? Then saddle up again.

But here’s the key: the grand conversation. It still comes back to conferencing with the students as much as possible individually, and the (dare I say it?) a whole-class discussion (which can look an awful lot like a lecture). And, as much as I wish providing students with a wide variety of genres would be the magic elixir to get them all just as stoopified and voo-doo’ed as I am when it comes to books, it doesn’t. The mojo only carries so far. But, it does lasso a few. The rest of the non-believers still have a greater understanding that they are readers, whether they like it or not. They read to live (while some of us live to read).

Now, there is friction with this, make no mistake. My husband has asked me, begged me, not to spend money on books for my classroom. I have tried to slow down. But when I’m at a full gallop, I simply take the fences and dead-head until dawn.

I still want to give a big “Yee-haw!” to DonorsChoose.org, whose participants equipped my classroom with thirty copies of The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan two years ago. That truly is the gift for the long run.

2 Comments »

  1. I just want to mention that I don’t point out other people’s “Ditch that Word” moments. It’s all about my own journey toward simplicity of language. 🙂

    • Oh, I know! I was just trying to be funny. I’m having a week of “trying to be funny” and just making people mad. I like your journey, and though no forgiveness is needed, forgive me with my over-use of cliches. (Or, is that redundant?) 🙂

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