24 February 2011

Reading Goal

I have given my students the requirement of reading twenty books by the end of the school year. I assigned the requirement the second week of January, and I am giving them up to the very last day of school, May 26th, to fulfill it. So, naturally, I am going to meet the same goal. You can see my progress on the left side of this blog.

My inspiration came from a book by Donalyn Miller called, The Book Whisperer. I have been astonished at the difference this goal has already made in my classroom - which is, of course, combined with at least fifteen minutes of reading time every day. Just barely over a month and my students have read and written more
than all the previous months combined. I have been more motivated to read as well; I have completed several books myself, and am using this goal to search out the YA genre, as well as inspire my students to read.

I have one criticism, however, and I think it's an important one - one that I'm not sure how to overcome. I can't help but be discouraged about the fact that a reading goal like this begets fast reading. This is something that Miller, in her experience, which is vast, claims improves reading ability more than anything else.

I believe her. The only thing is, fast reading (or reading in bulk) is not always a good thing.

Right now I'm rereading a book by one of my all time favorite authors, George MacDonald. The book is Phantastes, and is so good I will not rush through it. I find myself "stuck" on certain passages because they are simply too beautiful to read only once. I read and reread such parts, marveling at the depth of thought, savoring the truth of such imagination.

An example:

...I lay half dreaming in the hot summer noon, with a book of old tales beside me, beneath a great beech; or, in autumn, grew sad because I trod on the leaves that had sheltered me, and received their last blessing in the sweet odours of decay; or, in winter evening, frozen still, looked up, as I went home to a warm fireside, through the netted boughs and twigs to the cold, snowy moon, with her opal zone around her...

I think I've read that at least five times in the last two days. I'm entranced by the feelings these words invoke, and MacDonald takes me to a place I want to go in my mind, and in my body, over and over again.

So, if I'm too concerned about finishing the book - which is an admirable goal - how can I read and reread parts of a book that deserve more attention? How can I relish words that I can't afford to rush past because the beauty is too profound to go one more day without?

So there's the balancing act: improving reading skill while teaching the art of savoring a book.


Paul said...

To generalise, you'll get non-readers to read by giving them fiction that has a storyline and characaters that appeal or a non-fiction work on a subject dear to them: triumph enough if they carry on to another book. Get them reading, then get them thinking about what it is that they're enjoying, then get them on the beauty of language. Throw a poem at them - the one I often choose for the "poetry is crap" brigade is Betjeman's Slough.

Man O' Clay said...

Thanks Paul. I have seen some triumphs, some stumbles too. I'll keep at it!

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