Puppies or NASA?

We are honored to be part of the Share a Story ~ Shape a Future 2011 blog tour for literacy! Please enjoy our thoughts on teaching readers who love to read – in school and at home.

On Twitter this weekend Katie saw a tweet that has stuck in our heads. It was a quote from a student that said, “oh yeah, I can read and write. I just don’t like reading about puppies; I like reading about NASA.”

This hit home for us, as it connects with our belief that children should have choices and be able to pursue their passions in our classrooms and beyond. Choice motivates. By allowing our students choice in books and topics, we find that they read more often and more intensely. And in our classrooms, the freedom of choice is open to all students, not just the ones for whom reading comes easily. Think of your struggling readers? Are you giving them the chance to read about “NASA” and pursue their passions? Or are you feeding them a steady diet of “puppies”?

Reading in School
We feel that it’s important to make sure that the majority of time spent in reader’s workshop is time spent reading – not doing response activities, recording comprehension strategies used, or center activities that are not reading/writing based. Though we support the idea that reader’s workshops provide time for reading from “just-right” books, we believe in balancing those books with free choice, “fun” reading. So often, students don’t have the opportunity to pursue their passions in school.  Teachers need to assist students in finding books, articles, and websites that extend their personal interests.

We often see that struggling students have limited opportunity to choose what they want to read and to have uninterrupted time to get lost in a book. Our struggling readers need a good balance of explicit literacy instruction and independent reading where they can practice putting a reading process system together. It is important that the books we choose for them in guided reading, as well as the books they choose, reflect their interests and passions. We want them to not only learn to read, but love to read.

Kelly Gallagher, in his book Readicide, says, “people who are undernourished need good food. Readers who are undernourished need good books – and lots of them.” We would argue that not only do they need good books, but they need books that they have chosen, about topics that interest them.

Reading at Home
We  encourage reading at home by limiting our homework to “spend some time reading tonight.”  When kids are in the middle of texts they are excited about, they want to return to the story at home. We tend not to add an assignment to the reading time, but have, on occasion, used a sheet to record the titles of books read at home which gives us some documentation. When reading time at home is coupled with an assignment, the whole reading experience becomes a chore.  If we are serious about supporting kids in developing literate lives, then we need to treat them as real readers.  Real readers don’t do an assignment when they put their book down for the night.

For our youngest learners, we include being read to by an adult as acceptable reading homework. We make sure to send home lots of books that are “just-right” for our students to share with their families. Sharing books at home is a way to create a special time for children and their families. We’ve heard from many families that this gave them motivation to make sure they are reading to their children every night.  Also, as families listen to their child read, they get a better sense of how their child’s reading is progressing.

What about other types of homework? Unless it’s practice time of something that the child can do on his own, we don’t give it.  There are too many variables that come into play.  While some children have involved, educated parents who have the time and opportunity to help with homework, other kids have parents who work three jobs just to get food on the table or parents who don’t speak English.  In order to be fair to all our students, we limit the other types of homework we give.   We want to be sure that students have plenty of time to read every evening, so reading is our priority for homework.

Take a minute to think about your readers who struggle. Are they reading every day in school? What are their interests? What do they get excited about? What are they passionate about? Is is puppies? Or NASA? Do they have access to books they love? Are they choosing to read every night – because they want to, not because it’s a “read for 20 minutes” assignment?
Let’s make sure we are raising readers who not only CAN read, but CHOOSE to read.

Pat and Katie


  1. It has been interesting to see how that 20 minutes has evolved over the years. In K/1, my daughter had assigned readers. At the start of second grade, she had the same, and then it evolved to allowing her to pick her material and keep a reading log. This year, she has total freedom to choose and no log.

    It is so refreshing to hear that parents find motivation in the books that come home. For us, those K/1 years were drudgery. They were marked with levels and they were blah to say the least. We understood that the idea was to reinforce sight recognition, but they seemed to encourage our daughter to be a lazy reader. She compared all other reading material to those books and if they had more words / less pictures / bigger sentences, she wouldn’t try it.

    I can only imagine how hard it is to find that “just right” mix. Thank you for all you do for students and their families every day.

  2. When I read the “tweet” I immediately thought of my son.

    We read three books before bed every night. I choose one, my son chooses one, and my daughter chooses one. Until about a month ago, my son was making his choice from picture books that I selected at the library. Then, he figured out where to find books he likes at the library – Super Heroes, Star Wars, etc. Now, his choices at bed time are rarely from my stack, but from his.

    It is so cool to see him excited at the library trying to find books that he wants me to read at bedtime!

  3. Choice is vital. I would go so far as to say even if a book is way beyond a child’s reading level (or its converse, way easy), the choosing is something that should be the child’s alone. We don’t know what the child may take from the experience of reading that book – hopefully, it will be yet another milestone on the love of reading journey!

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