Byron's Babbles

I Get To Read!

I realize that, ideally, a fondness for books starts at home, but reading can become a habit through opportunities to read self-chosen books at school. Consumed by the urgency to raise students’ reading scores, some policy makers and school officials have forgotten that children learn to read by reading. I support “balanced literacy” instruction, which includes independent reading. All students should be given access to books they want to read throughout their schooling, and I dream of the day all pre-readers would have an adult who would read aloud to them everyday. Through independent reading children gain a wealth of background knowledge about many different things, come to understand story and non-fiction structures, absorb the essentials of English grammar, and continuously expand their vocabularies. Many also remember visually how to spell words.

Interestingly, it is the adult/child relationship to reading that prompted this post. This past week my son needed to pick a book to read for his sophomore English class. Yep, you heard me right, he got to choose. First of all, I was excited by that! In my view students should get to choose what they read. If you want to hear my story of how I got turned on to being the rabid reader I am today click here to read “Reading Big Red.” Short of the long story – I hated reading until I got to pick my first book (not till middle school mind you). Now I read 70-80 books a year. So, I’m sure you can see why I was excited for Heath to get to pick a book he wanted to read – just typing here I just can’t see why people don’t get this concept – picking your own book makes it about the reader (student centered). Research has shown that letting children choose their own books could in fact make them better readers. When you think back to your own classroom experience, being assigned one book to read as a class was often a dreadful experience. Teachers would assign students to read a some classic and, instead of being enamored with this classic tale, students were often less than thrilled. That was me and has also been my son Heath’s experience, too.

Back to the story – Heath came home all excited (think about this; he’s coming home from school excited!) about the book he had picked: Tough As They Come by Travis Mills. Heath proceeded to tell me all about the book and Travis Mills. Travis is a retired United States Army Staff Sergeant and what he calls a recalibrated warrior. He is now a motivational speaker, actor, author and an advocate for veterans and amputees. In his book, Tough as They Come, Travis shares his journey of serving our country. Despite losing portions of both arms and legs from an IED while on active duty in Afghanistan, Travis continues to overcome life’s challenges, breaking physical barriers and defying odds. Travis lives by his motto: “Never give up. Never quit.” 

Think about what just happened here:

  1. My son chose a book
  2. My son wanted to read a book (Not to sound like Donald Trump, but this is HUGE!)
  3. My son had researched about a book and the author
  4. My son was going to get a role model and mentor, Travis Mills, through the power of reading

I thought this was the coolest day ever. I read to Heath when he was younger every night and then rubbed his back till he went to sleep (He would not want me to tell that, but these were some of the greatest moments as a dad), but now he was explaining a book he wanted to read to me. And… as if it could not get any better… Heath proceeded to say, “Let’s both download this book and read it together Dad. I think you’ll really like it.” I ask you you, “How does it get any better than that?” My sophomore in high school son wants to read a book with his dad! Well it does get better – Heath has agreed to write a guest blog post about the book for me! Watch for it soon.

Here’s the deal: giving students a choice has been linked with scholastic achievement. Some researchers believe that when students (especially boys) are free to choose what they want to read, they will read for pleasure. Reading for pleasure has been linked with scholastic achievement in school. Furthermore, students will read for pleasure and enjoy reading. When children can freely choose what they want to read, they will be reading for pleasure, not because there is an assignment due. A choice allows children to be enthusiastic about what they are reading, and in turn they will be engaged.

I realize there are books and other literary pieces we need to have our children reading, but I believe we need to give students control of their own reading. Allow them to make their own choices and they will explore more genres. Expose your students to books they love and you will see that they will not only read for pleasure, but enjoy what they are reading. I have always said we need to change the mindset from, “I have to read.” to “I get to read!” We can do this and student choice is one piece of it.

Think about this as a conversation starter and relationship builder with your children and students: “So, what are you reading right now?”


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