If You're Not Teaching with REAL BOOKS You're Doing it Wrong!

This blog post has been weighing on my heart for too long, and I feel like it's time to put it out there! This is something I believe to my very core. So here it is, no apologies, my literacy truth!




During my time in the teaching profession I have watched districts go through numerous textbook adoptions, always searching for that "just right" fit. That dreaded word, basal. There is NO TEXTBOOK that can do what REAL BOOKS can do. There is no instructional practice or book designed to improve the reading of EVERY child.

What's your goal as a literacy teacher? Do you want your students to be able to read a text, answer questions about it, and do well on a comprehension test? If that's it, then stop right here. This post is not for you.

REAL BOOKS excite students and foster a deep love for reading THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN with a textbook. REAL BOOKS cause readers to REACT, RESPOND, and RELATE. My students always talk about the emotions books make them feel, good and bad. If you are not emotionally or intellectually connected to a text, you will not learn from it or grow from it.

If you're still reading, I want to share with you the literacy motto that the teachers in my building and myself came up with to show our goals for our readers and writers.


When's the last time you asked your students how they feel about their reading instruction? Have you put yourself in their shoes and thought if you were forced to endure it? 

Passionate readers grow as readers. When is the last time you were so passionate about a passage written for the sole purpose of teaching you how to identify character traits? Did you read it and then immediately feel emotionally attached, happy about it, or like you wanted to know more? Did you sit down and take a 10 question multiple choice quiz to make sure you understood it all? I didn't think so.

Last week I finished the book The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin. When I finished my husband looked at me like I was crazy because I was sobbing, smiling, and shouting all at the same time. (If you follow me on Instagram you also saw my entire rant about the movie, but that's another topic!) I couldn't wait to share my thoughts on the book, and THAT right there is what we want our students to feel. 

Students need to gain confidence in their reading and they do this when they are given the time to read for enjoyment. Every year, the stats of people who read for pleasure are rapidly declining in the U.S., even though we know it is best practice to do so to improve our reading abilities. 



I read aloud to my students EVERY DAY from a REAL BOOK, NO EXCEPTIONS. 
My students have 20 minutes EVERY DAY to independently read a book of THEIR CHOICE without me questioning or quizzing them about it, NO EXCEPTIONS.




So what can you do RIGHT NOW to make this change in your classroom and teach with real books?

BE A READER
You have to practice what you preach, have to. Reading isn't a "fake it till you make it" type of thing. Read, and read a lot. Let your students SEE you reading. When they DEAR read, I DEAR read. I share with them every time I finish a book, and I talk about that book. I share my reaction to the book, my review of the book, and I recommend books I've personally read.

INTEGRATE
The first thing everyone asks me about how in my class is how I have time to read aloud every day, and my #1 answer is this. I double dip with my read aloud. If I am reading aloud a picture book (YES, picture books are amazingly useful in upper elementary and middle school) then that picture book is being used as a mentor text for both reading and writing, and sometimes, social studies content, too!

USE SMALL GROUPS
Small group time is an amazing time to use REAL BOOKS! Put down those decodable readers. Yes, there is a time and place for these, especially in the primary grades, but this shouldn't be your only small group instruction! Don't have your students round robin read aloud real books. This takes too much time. Choose books at their independent level that are REAL and engaging books. If you wouldn't want to read it now, or wouldn't have liked it at their age, DON'T use the book in your classroom! Also, make it manageable. Assign reading ahead of time, and spend small group time discussing and reacting to what they've read.

NONFICTION BOOKS, TOO
Real books don't just mean fiction. Nonfiction books and articles are amazing for teaching, too. Teaching about informational writing? Model it with your favorite high-interest nonfiction books. My students LOVE the Weird, but True series so I am constantly reading them aloud and using them for reading and writing mini lessons. Use nonfiction that is about an engaging topic, that intrigues the students in your classroom. I love the concept in Disrupting Thinking that nonfiction should be passionate, too!

Of course there's always the thought in the back of teacher's minds about testing. I am a very anti teach-to-the-test teacher, and research supports that idea, too! In Donalyn Miller's book Reading in the Wild, there is an entire chapter on how positive interactions with authentic text and time spent reading improve test scores.


If you ever come across anyone who is battling with you about using a basal reader your classroom, I ask you to ask yourself, "What's best for kids?" I can guarantee that answer isn't going to be: The story written to teach you that the character Suzie needs to be a better friend to her toad, that you'll read 5 times in one week and then give a quiz over.


So throw out the workbook, the worksheet, the textbook, and grab ahold of that book you read that changed you forever. Grab a stack of the beautiful and text intensive picture books that you read about or saw at the library. Sit down with your students and READ. You'll be a better teacher, and they'll be better readers.

Real books, authentic teaching, no other way!


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