Providing choice, time, and access to great books goes a long way toward motivating kids who would rather not be reading, but as @steveshann reminded me on Twitter last night, community is everything and conversation is where it begins. Informal conversation.

Communities build around books and reading rapidly when we invite kids to share their honest opinions about what they’re reading. I remember watching this happen with Go Ask Alice, the Harry Potter series, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and anything that Brian Jacques wrote. This year, it’s happening with the Twilight series. Kids aren’t drawn to these books because someone asked them to read or write or listen to a book report, though. They’re drawn to them because their friends have influenced them to pick them up.

Ladies? Think about how your first copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret ended up in your hands. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

When interest starts to build around an author, title, or series, the work of the teacher is to make space for kids to talk about it and begin finding connections to other texts. Teachers can model what meaningful book talking looks like by sharing their own reading experiences and opinions. They can prompt deeper explorations of texts, provide pathways for creative response, and reinforce dispositions that lead to individual and community growth. Something else: when kids dislike books, they should be allowed to say so and encouraged to use their discoveries to define themselves further as readers.

The best part of my week unfolded today, when a teacher told me that she recently asked her students if all of them LOVED the books they were currently reading for workshop, and their response was a resounding YES. That’s a tremendous achievement. That’s what the work of great teachers looks like.


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