girl with books

For my final reading class exam this past year, I wanted to do something valuable, not just another show-me-what-I-know-that-you-already-know exam to fill a column in the grade book. I wanted to learn something from the students about how they saw themselves as readers, how they had grown as readers, and how important reading was to them. Each student chose an influential person in our district and wrote a letter to him or her about the importance of every student reading every day at school. I gave them the prompt and the choices of recipients, but the students composed their own letters from their experiences, research, and personal feelings.

Up front, I told the kids that my goal as a teacher was to see mandatory reading time implemented in every reading class in the district. I also told them that they did not have to rally for that reading time; their words would speak for themselves. The students submitted the letters electronically; I printed them and compiled them in binders for the recipients and put the binders in the mail. I know we educators talk a lot about having an authentic audience for our assignments, but I never truly felt the weight of it until I saw the kids’ faces when they knew I was really going to send these letters. A few students even mentioned in their letters how honored they were to be writing a letter to the district administrator.

As I read the letters, of course I was proud of their work. If you’re a teacher, you know how reading a student’s work can bring tears of joy to your eyes. What really surprised me was how many students were impacted by what I had done in the classroom to renew a love of reading they had lost. I had given them choice. Plain and simple—choice.

I was so moved by their words that I marked favorite lines from their letters. I had only planned to mark a few, but I couldn’t stop! I marked something on almost every student’s letter, all 107 of them. Some kids had written so many great things that I marked two or even three lines. My plan is to type them up and enlarge them to make posters for my hallway. Pre-made posters are a dime a dozen and are often ignored, but imagine the power that the words of last year’s students will have on this year’s kids. I can’t wait to get my hands on the poster maker and the laminator. I know my project will use a lot of paper and a lot of laminating materials, but I also know it will be worth it. Heck, that’s why I pay property taxes, right?

Here’s a preview of a few lines I marked:

“Reading had never pleased me until I discovered the right book. I believe that if children are introduced to the right types of books, they will be able to find the same benefit in reading that I do. Many people say that reading will show you new horizons, but in my case, reading was the new horizon.”

“Readers are more original, curious, and are in general deeper thinkers than their bibliophobic counterparts.”

“Reading should be required for classes…to improve vocabulary, to spark imagination, to give the brain a break. If children go too long without reading books or stories then they will disregard all books.”

And my personal favorite from the girl who barely talked all year…

“My reading teacher was crazy about reading, and at first I thought it was a little overboard, pushing us to read every single day in her class for about 15 minutes. I barely read books throughout my middle school years, so it was kind of like learning something new, something I had never done before. I decided to give it a shot, and after a week, I was hooked. If it weren’t for my teacher, I would’ve never found my love for books.”

I am going to miss those kids, but I can’t wait to welcome in the new group of eighth grade readers. I have become a better teacher this summer after reading more, planning more, writing more, and thinking more. I can’t wait to see how we grow together.