“You can’t read that.”
“You shouldn’t read that.”
“Why would you read that?”
Leave kids alone. Let them read, for goodness sake!
Well-intentioned adults (teachers and parents) are doing a huge disservice to kids when we doubt their ability to read, when we censor what they read, and when we judge what they read. What happens? Kids stop reading.
We should celebrate that our kids are reading! Especially if they’re reading books (and not scores on video games). We shouldn’t be putting them down.
Isn’t it fabulous that our kids want to challenge themselves with a complex text? It shows initiative. It shows their willingness to grapple. It shows their desire to read more. STOP telling them they can’t read certain books.Isn’t it fabulous that our kids want to read books about controversial or gritty topics? It shows intellectual curiosity. It shows an interest in perspectives and worldviews different from their own. STOP telling them they shouldn’t read certain books.
Isn’t it fabulous that our kids want to read all kinds of books? It shows they’re lovers of many types of writing and storylines instead of book snobs. Who are we to determine what are good and bad books for individual readers? Allow kids to form their own opinions. STOP judging their choices.
How many decisions do you think kids make in a day? We decide what they eat. We decide when they go to school. We decide what they read. We might give them options but ultimately, we decide what those options are. Kids make very few decisions – the ability to choose what they want to read should be one of them.
I take great pleasure in choosing books. One of my favorite things about finishing books is being able to choose the next one. I love being in book clubs because I eventually get to choose the book we read. (I pity the fool who tries to take that decision away from me!)
Instead of denying students the pleasure of choosing books, we should model our passion. Take, for instance, Ms. Bileni Teklu in Engaging With Literature, program 8, “Finding Common Ground.”
“…her students come to love reading because she is not dictating what they must read and when they must read it. These students have few choices in their personal lives, and so are especially appreciative of being able to choose what they read.”
In Classroom Lesson Plan: Independent Reading (also watch the classroom video here), Ms. Teklu models her own decision-making process with students. She empowers them to make reading choices by sharing her personal experience.
I’m a literacy scholar. I’m a teacher educator. I’m a former classroom teacher. I know we need to teach district-sanctioned instructional materials. I know kids should be reading books at their independent level to build fluency. I know kids should be reading books at their instructional level during guided reading. I know kids should be reading complex texts during read-alouds. Effective literacy instruction requires us to make decisions about what kids read.
But, we should ensure kids have opportunities to choose their own books. And, we shouldn’t make them feel bad about their decisions. The consequences are too great.