A Waste of Time?

I found myself nodding vigorously as I read The Book Whisperer’s latest post this evening.  It feels like I could have written the post myself.  Reading is viewed as a “waste of time” or a free period in too many classrooms.  Very few adults realize that this attitude is what leads students to view reading as a waste of time or something that is only done to please a teacher.

In two weeks, I will be leaving my class with a substitute for four days while I go to Mexico on a fellowship.  This will be the first time I have ever left a class for more than a day.  As I am writing the lesson plans I will leave behind I realized that my workshops are very different than the rote and memorization classes that many other teachers/subs are used to seeing.  I think I will have to leave very detailed notes explaining our daily reading time.  My students know that independent reading time is not the time to talk, work on homework, or do anything else.  But of course, I am sure they will push the limits (as any 6th grader would!) when they have a substitute teacher for the week and their regular teacher is in another country!  The note will explain that the students should read every single day.  I wish I could request that the sub also reads, to continue the modeling I do on most days, but I fear that the sub will be hesitant to do this.

Why would a sub be hesitant to sit and read for 25 minutes?  It’s not that I believe the sub would not want to read- in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  I think any substitute teacher would be afraid to do so because what if another teacher or administrator walked in and saw them just reading?  That sub would look like they were ignoring the students and not doing their job.  That is awful!  Reading should never be looked down upon as just a waste of time!  And what would that tell my students?  That reading is not a real, academic venture.  That it is something used to quiet them down and pass the time.   Not in my classroom!

In our classroom, my students and I love to read.  They beg to read.  They groan when I tell them that we need to move on and they have to put their books away.  They beg to read more of our current read-aloud, promising to make up the classwork at home.  They run to the library daily, trying to get new books or sequels.  They talk about books and make recommendations to each other.  They loan books to their classmates.  They write their letter-essays enthusiastically and want them back ASAP so that they can write back to me.  I love it!  Every classroom should be as enthusiastic about reading as mine.   (Not bragging there, just stating that all classrooms should make reading a vital and integral part of their day).

When did reading become a waste of time?  In my opinion, it happened when NCLB made testing more important than learning.  But then again, looking back on my own education, we were rarely given the time to just read.  For some reason, reading isn’t viewed as learning.  Yet I teach mini-lesson after mini-lesson that focuses on the type of thinking we do while reading.  I focus my read-alouds on thinking through my own  thinking, out loud.  I know many other teachers who do the same thing.  Yet we get strange looks and whispers because instead of spending those 20 minutes listening to a teacher lecture, my students are in the reading zone.  They are each in their own space, in their own head, living the lives of their characters.  How is this not learning?!!

8 Responses

  1. you say it, girlfriend. (you’re preaching to the choir here.) maybe you can leave a sign, like Nancie Atwell suggests, that says QUIET!! READERS AT WORK! and tell the sub to close your door and hang up the sign. it would emphasize the expectation that the kids be silently reading AND it emphasize the truth that we’re WORKING! HARD!!

    NCLB high stakes tests have made some of the schools and kids who most need MORE free voluntary reading time, take it all away. the one thing that is guaranteed to grow stronger readers is shoved out of the school day.

    question: you mentioned you have some boys who like Cirque Du Freak—have you read or do you know anything about Demonata? too gory for 6th grade?

  2. I haven’t read Demonata, though I do have the first book. One of my students read it and he didn’t enjoy it as much as Cirque du Freak. According to him, it is gorier than Cirque du Freak but not too gory. He’s fairly mature and a pretty good judge of what is appropriate and what is not, so I trust his opinion. Cirque du Freak is a lot more popular with my kids, though. I haven’t convinced anyone else to try Demonata: Lord Loss.

  3. What a success story! I know many people who think their teacher day is too busy for “free reading” time. My class loves it and on the days we visit the library they practically can’t stop reading.

  4. We had a schoolwide SSR program in our high school that failed because so few teachers bought into it. “How am I supposed to get kids to read?” “I have too much to do to drop everything and read!” “This is a waste of time!” Some classes read every day, the entire 25 minute period. It was just taken for granted. And some classes read while the teacher watched the news. Or some classes played on the computers in the lab they were assigned to during SSR.

    Ooooohh…it frustrated me so much to see educators of every stripe fighting tooth and nail to prove that the program couldn’t be successful and finally, it was gone.

  5. Jennifer-

    That is so frustrating! One of the most important aspects of any type of SSR ( in my opinion) is modeling. Students MUST see that the teachers view SSR and reading itself as vital, important, and fun. Having a teacher grade papers, watch the news, or do any other myriad of activities defeats the purpose of SSR. Reading in the classroom should be used as a platform for promoting reading. If we don’t show students that reading is important to us, why should it be important to them?

  6. As a sub, it’s a fine line about what I can do during SSR.

    I always have a book to read wherever I go, but during class I rarely get to use it because the kids see inattention on my part is an excuse to mess around if nobody is constantly watching.

    There HAVE been a few times, with a rare class like yours, that I will enjoy the time reading as much as the kids do.

  7. I can’t imagine being in a sub’s position. I get nervous, sometimes, when I feel I might have to defend my reading as a best practice. I don’t expect my subs to fight that fight. I just wish it was a fight that was already won!

  8. I agree that reading is learning. At my school, my students love to read. You give them the time and they read. When I first started teaching I thought these kids won’t like to read. Boy, was I wrong! I have been doing Literature Circles and my students are asking when are we going to read our next book!

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