From the Office of the Future of Reading

Please join me in welcoming today’s guest blogger, Lisa Kanute. Lisa teaches high school English and coaches varsity swimming in Tucson, Arizona.  In her spare time, she likes to read, follow authors and other literary pages on facebook, hang out at home with her husband and dogs, and drink tea.  She says, “The best cure for a stressful day is a trip to the bookstore.

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Encouraging Reluctant Readers

“I hate reading!”  “I’ll never understand Shakespeare!”  “Don’t worry, I’ll just look at SparkNotes instead.”

Sound familiar?

In my nine years of teaching high school English, the number one lesson I’ve learned is that nothing inspires my students to read more than my own enthusiasm for a book.  Additionally, nothing kills their reading enjoyment quicker than letting my own dislike for a book show.  Whether it is an assigned read for the whole class or a personal recommendation just for them, my students love to hear me rave about books I loved to read.  And rave I do; I can’t help it.

My students are lucky.  I LOVE to read, especially young adult books.  I didn’t have to make myself read these books for my job.  Instead, these are the books I naturally gravitate towards.  By natural consequence, I have a decently sized classroom library, which I refer to often.  When the class is reading
Beowulf, I cannot help but to ask if they’ve heard of Grendel.  When they reminisce about reading Frankenstein last year, I ask if they’ve read This Dark Endeavor.  “You liked Homer’s Odyssey?  Great!  Have you read any of the Percy Jackson books?”  They’ve hardly answered before I’m pulling the book off the shelf and offering to let them borrow it.

Two years ago, one of my sophomore students decided that he was going to read my entire classroom library (it helped that he was seated right next to it).  I admired his goal, but wondered what he’d make of my collection.  I never got to find out.  He made it about a third of the way through when he fell in love with Tolkien.  He read and re-read each of those books several times before the year was out.  This is only one of many stories I have about my students and their (sometimes newfound) love of reading.

Would my students still read if I didn’t do this?  Some, but not nearly as many.  I know this because I’ve had students return to me, book in hand (usually one I recommended to them personally), telling me it’s the first book they’ve read to the end in years.  Could I recommend books to my students without reading many of them myself?  Maybe, but likely without the same amount of success.  And finally, do I read every young adult book?  No, not even every book in my own classroom library.  So breathe easy, my friend, it’s not as daunting as it seems.  Whether you read a lot of books or just a few, your students will appreciate knowing you as a reader just as much (if not more-so) than they appreciate knowing you as their teacher.

I end with a word of caution: If it would break your heart to loose a particular book, do not let students borrow it.  I learned this one the hard way with a copy of Isaac Asimov’s out-of-print The Black Widower’s Club.

Thank you Lisa for sharing how you connect to students through books; and books to students.