The Joys of Teaching Literature
Can you remember when you fell in love with reading? Was it a book that was read to you such as Where the Wild Things Are or The Snowy Day? Was it a book you read to yourself such as The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird? Whatever the book may have been, think back to that moment when reading felt less like a requirement and more like a special prize just for you.
As a teacher, I always want to realign myself with my why: Why am I teaching? My why is that moment when a student falls in love with reading, whether that love comes from a series, a specific author, or just one simple book.
My love of reading
I can remember being obsessed with reading as a child. I could never get enough of it. I remember completing the entire series of The Boxcar Children and The Baby-Sitters Club. No one could tell me I was not part of The Baby-Sitters Club! In my mind, I was an official member.
As I got older, I became the high schooler who preferred to spend my free time reading rather than hanging out with friends. I worked in a bookstore because, in my adolescent mind, that was the dream job. I ended up spending most of my paycheck there.
I was also the high school student who looked forward to the required readings. There wasn’t a book I was required to read that I didn’t love. Well…except Beowulf. I struggled with Beowulf for many reasons, mainly because it was difficult for me to comprehend. I spent so much time trying to comprehend what I was reading that I was left with little time to enjoy the actual art of storytelling.
Little did I know that would be my first encounter with one of the reasons students have a hard time finding the joy in reading. Many years later, as an adult studying to become an educator, I reflected on my encounter with Beowulf and it was then that I realized even though it wasn’t enjoyable, I was able to overcome it and still find joy because I was already invested in the joy that comes from reading. The many years I’d spent enjoying other books gave me the power to continue to enjoy reading even though Beowulf wasn’t enjoyable for me at all. It was at that moment that I vowed that I would help my students capture that invested joy for reading as soon as they entered my classroom.
Finding and creating joy
So how do you find and create that joy for your students? There are so many ways it can be done: book talks, read-alouds, and author studies. Each of these techniques appeals to students differently. In my classroom, book talks are just that; we all read the same book and then just talk about it. There’s no task or assignment that needs to be completed, just good old fashion conversation. I learn so much about my students through these conversations, not only their understanding of the book but also insights into them as a reader.
Interactive read-alouds are another great way to build a love of reading. They allow me to steer and guide the conversation in an intentional and purposeful manner. I can get in much needed content and skill while also exciting my students about reading. My students enjoy the book without the worry of decoding or getting the right answer. They can listen to the story and analyze via discussion. I love the moment when the classroom is alive with a buzz about one single book and listening to students think out loud and question not only the characters in the book but also each other. That’s the joy!
Author studies are another great idea for creating a love for reading. Every year, I choose a few authors, and we spend about a week reading books by only that author. It’s great to see the students go to the school or public library and come back to show you the books they have checked out by that author. Another moment of joy occurs not only for me but also for the students when they all gather together to look at a book they found by that particular author or when they swap books with each other because they think their classmate might like the book that they read.
I often wish I could bottle up these moments and send them home with each student. I want every student who steps into my classroom to be able to leave with at least one joyful reading moment, a lasting memory when they can remember enjoying a piece of literature. I want them to remember that reading is more than just reading to answer questions about the text. It is also—dare I say—fun.