Slice of Life March Challenge: March 15th., 2014 – Books kids want to read vs. books kids “should read”…a tug of war in my classroom

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The March Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers .  

There are still a few reluctant readers in my classroom, kids for whom the habitual love of reading is still something their teacher hopes and prays for, but Josh is not one of these.  Ever since the beginning of the year, he has managed a book a week, diligently taking down new titles during my book talks, and checking them out of our classroom library.  His reading responses were further evidence of his happy reading life, and we had wonderful conferences about the book he’d read.  Josh was happy, I was happy.

And then, he returned from winter break with a new book.  Actually, this was a old/new book – it was new to him, but had belonged to his dad when he was Josh’s age.  It was one of those beautiful. “old fashioned” , this-a-literary-classic series of books – gilt edged, filled with N.C. Wyeth’s gorgeous , and weighing a ton: Treasure Island.  It was even inscribed to Josh’s dad by his grandfather : “Grandson, I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did.”

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We had a brief conference about it, and Josh said he was looking forward to the book because it was an adventure story, and he loved books like that.  I knew this was true, because his reading life until then had included Kate Messner’s Capture the Flag and Hide and Seek, and the last book he’d devoured (read in three days!) before winter break was Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.  We talked about how Treasure Island might be a different reading experience in terms of vocabulary and structure, and Josh seemed ready to enjoy his old/new book.   

Whenever we read in class, Josh would haul out his book and find his preferred place to read – a nest of cushions stuffed behind our mini lessons easel.  He might have been in his usual reading spot, but he didn’t seem to be his usual reading self.  I could see that his attention wandered,that he didn’t seem engaged, and he barely turned the pages.  He readily admitted that he “couldn’t get into” the book during our reading conferences. but was reluctant to abandon it because “my dad really, really wants me to read it.”  By February, Josh was only 20 pages into the book, and I was concerned – so I suggested that Treasure Island should be set aside for the moment, and perhaps returned to later on when Josh felt more like tackling the book.  He agreed (with great enthusiasm, I might add) and soon was happily into Ophelia and The Marvelous Boy.

The very next day, however, there was Josh, trekking to his reading spot with Treasure Island tucked under his arm.

“Josh, what happened?” I asked, gesturing at the book, “where’s Ophelia?”

“Well, my dad wants me to finish Treasure Island first,…soooo…” and he shrugged.   Soon he was back in his spot, back to his distracted reading.

At the end of the period, I called Josh over and we had a repeat of the conversation we’d had just a few days ago – he wasn’t into the book, but dad really wanted him to read it, but he couldn’t focus when he tried to read it,so….yeah, he shrugged.

Thinking quickly, I wrote a note to Josh’s dad: Treasure Island is a wonderful book.  When Josh is ready to read it, he will love this tale of adventure.  But, right now, Josh needs to read a different type of book – one that will continue to grow and nurture his reading life.  One that will engage his attention and his imagination.  I hope he understood.

He didn’t understand.  Treasure Island is just the type of book Josh should be reading, he wrote back, it will develop Josh’s vocabulary and his reading ability…just as it did for him, back when he was in sixth grade.  Unless there was required reading, he wrote, he would prefer for Josh to stick with this book – it was good for him.

I read the note and looked at Josh. He shrugged.  Then he went back to his reading spot.

Next week, we will begin our historical fiction book clubs – I am in the midst of putting together selections that include The Watson’s Go To Birmingham, and Across Five Aprils, and  The Mostly True Adventures Of Homer P. Figg … Josh will love one of these books, and it will be required reading.

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14 thoughts on “Slice of Life March Challenge: March 15th., 2014 – Books kids want to read vs. books kids “should read”…a tug of war in my classroom

    • Parents and our ” good intentions”. perhaps there should be a parent workshop in “taking cues from your children readers”. 🙂 I like to make things available to my own kids and see what comes of it. I am so happy this was not a post about why kids should be reading Treasure Island instead of Percy Jackson 🙂 btw treasure Island is sitting unread on my son’s shelf too! Lol
      http://parentingandpedagogy.blogspot.com

  1. I loved this book, you drew me right in with your description of Josh, I had a Josh last year whose a Dad had passed on The Hobbit, and we had the same scenario… What are your thoughts on listening to the story as an audio book and following along? Seems like a book Dad needs to read aloud to him.

  2. My heart breaks for Josh, just as I know yours did. The philosophy “it was good for me, so it’s good for my kid” just doesn’t cut it. I’m guessing Josh will have a lot of “required” reading to finish off this year. Maybe Treasure Island can be finished in the summer.

  3. *sigh* I feel your frustration. I wish Josh’s dad could see what you see. We don’t win all the battles but I sense the love of reading will return to Josh in the long run. I love your vision and passion, Tara!

  4. I feel for Josh too. It’s like he is being told it’s not OK to have different interest than his dad. He may love Treasure Island one day but the time for it is not now. I am glad he has some book club options coming soon! I am sure he will be glad too! Very thoughtful share!

  5. Oh, so frustrating, for you, for Josh, and really for his dad too I guess. I usually had a parent or two that insisted that their children read “the classics” & would pull out “their” favorites, & it was always those children who were the slow-to-acquire a true reading life, grew up being told what to read, so learned ways to resist, therefore never getting the reading practice that others did, over & over. You are a sneaky teacher, tried to be straightforward, but found a new path when needed. So glad Josh has you as his teacher!

  6. Actually, I said something similar to myself. I spent most of the year reading YA and children’s literature. I sat myself down and had a talk with myself, reminding me that I am an English major. I love Literature. I should be reading classics, quoting the majors, perhaps speaking with a British accent at times. I made a commitment to read classics each month, in addition to the other books I wanted to read. And then I found myself avoiding the commitment and failing. Finally, I checked out the audio. Listening to the audio got me through many books. I’d listen while walking, and then I’d be ready to pick up the book as soon as I stopped. Amazon’s whispersync is great for that. (For example, the audiobook is 99 cents when you buy the free kindle book for Treasure Island.) It might be a way to get him more engaged in the book.

  7. Sometimes seeing the movie first paves the way a bit for the book…at least, that helped my daughter when she had to read Emma by Jane Austen. She was having a hard time getting into it until we saw the movie. I doubt Josh’s dad would approve, though.

  8. Pingback: Sunday Salon: A Round-up of Online Reading | the dirigible plum

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