It began as a comment made by a presenter in a workshop. He talked about how his class kept track of all the titles they read together throughout the year. The idea intrigued me, but I could also see how this could quickly turn into “one more thing.” So I tweaked it. We wouldn’t write down titles; we would keep a count of how many books we read.
I’ve kept count ever since.
Back to school time turns into fall. We’ve read books about starting school. Books about friendship and feelings. Books about apples and pumpkins and fall leaves. There are some authors we can’t get enough of, some series of stories where we read and re-read every story. (I’m looking at you, Elephant and Piggie, although you amuse me too.)
In two months of school we’ve read 90 books. Ninety. It seems impossible, even to me, and I was there for all of those read-alouds. I mention it one day at lunch to another teacher on my grade level, and she’s shocked.
She wants to know when I find time to read, of all things. She’s not sure she’s read a book to her class all year.
Fall slowly turns to winter. We read books featuring turkeys and trees and menorahs and kinaras. We read chapter books and beg for just one more chapter to be read. We read books with snowmen and ridiculously large snowballs, and we act out a certain folktale about a mitten that is taken over by a group of animals.
As we pass by the 100th day of school, we hit a new high–200 books. Two. Hundred. Books.
I mention this to my administration. Secretly I’m hoping we can get a shoutout on our morning announcements because the kids would get so excited.
But when I try to bring up the accomplishment of reading 200 books, I’m ignored.
It is never more clear what we (don’t) value.
The snow and ice (finally) begin to melt, and we keep reading. It seems we’re reading less than before, but we keep climbing towards our next milestone–300.
We’ve already beat all of my previous classes who kept count. (There may be some younger brothers and sisters who are positively gleeful at beating their older family members.) Based on things I’ve heard, I’m positive we’re light years ahead of every other class in the building.
One of the things I tell my kids each year, beginning on day one or day two, is that the way we become better readers is to read. Sounds obvious, but it’s not. Despite the research out there, stories are only sanctioned in a basal, and even then it’s iffy. Why waste time reading when we could be using a computer program and/or assessing?
Stories are the fabric of our community. It gives us a common language in more ways than one, since I have a lot of ELL students. Read-alouds have taught, entertained, and bonded us. We’ve encountered vocabulary in its natural habitat, seen text features in action, and used a table of contents to find the next chapter of our book. But more than anything, it’s fun.
Fun–that thing that’s not allowed in most classrooms anymore. Along with recess and read-alouds and independent self-selected reading time. Things that should be basic rights for children…and they are, if your parents can afford the tuition or the property taxes in the right zip code.
In most other classrooms, my kids would be denied those rights. But they’re in my classroom, so…
…it’s time to read book #301.
“What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.”–John Dewey