Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Desperate Reading Measures

Before this second half of the school year began, I resolved to make reading the focus for the remainder of our academic time here at the home academy. This focus has really paid off. Alex of course still continues to devour any book she can get her hands on. For Jacob, something clicked seemingly overnight, and he is well on his way to becoming a successful reader. As for Michael, he has improved a whole lot as well; the only obstacle he still has to overcome is his general dislike of reading, an attitude that is difficult for me to understand and therefore near impossible for me to "fix". I guess that's what attracted me to How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell. It's really a book for classroom teachers or for parents with children in a traditional school, but I was able to glean a lot of wonderful ideas from it, and it makes a great resource for any teacher's bookshelf.

Although some of Ms. Codell's ideas--like making a Time Machine--are certainly more "classroom-y", our Reading Corner was an offspring idea from her brainstorming. I took over a corner of the family room, set up a comfy chair, and placed a huge basket beside it that is now crammed full of books and books on tape/CD. Perhaps the biggest allure of the Reading Corner is that as soon as a child is seated in the chair, I serve him or her a special snack to munch on while reading. Since food is otherwise prohibited anywhere but at the table, this is quite a novel idea and thus a huge draw for them. Regardless of the true reason they fight over who goes first in the Reading Corner, they are nevertheless spending a half hour each day reading on their own.
One other idea I wrestled with for quite some time. I heard about the Captain Underpants series back when I taught second grade. I was then appalled by such titles as "Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants." However, that was before I realized I had a struggling reader. And a struggling reader who giggles at the mere mention of underwear or poop. While the Captain Underpants series goes against all I value as an English teacher and lover of good literature and all I strive for as a well-mannered mommy, I knew the series was a match for my boys.

So I ordered five of them, and they came yesterday afternoon. The boys couldn't wait to get to them after basketball and showers. Funny thing is the boy for whom I really bought these books said they look too hard for him to read and thus did not even try. Instead, he quickly settled for letting his little brother read the good parts to him....while he zoomed around the house in his skivvies and a cape (sorry--these pictures are reserved for my scrapbook only...and perhaps the wedding rehearsal dinner of a certain young man). I suppose I shouldn't be so critical of books about poop; I did, after all, once write my own little potty book.


The Chaplain said...

I meant to just leave a little comment, but, looking above this comment box, I see that my comment will become a "treasured footnote." Talk about pressure! I was simply going to say that I enjoyed seeing your active pedagogical problem-solving process. It seems to me that this is how teaching occurs, and I like reading about how others solve those problems as they arise. Your "reward" model for teaching is sound because it obviously works, but also because it meshes with research.

As for the poopy pants books, I feel your pain when it comes to wanting your students (kids) to like good literature. However, your instincts by giving in are dead right. What makes good literature good is not always apparent at first glance. For instance, when I introduce William Wordsworth in my courses, I tell the students that I hated him when I first read his stuff. I reveal that I still find him rather boring. The I send them off to read. In the next class, I explain why he is good and how influential he was. I think people get the false impression that "good" literature means literature you should fall in love with when reading. Take this idea over to the field of music and you can see what a false model it is. There is no debating the fact that Bob Dylan is a gifted musician and lyricist, and he had a huge influence on those who followed. Still, I am going to look to other artists that I appreciate more. In fact, I wouldn't even understand how good he is if I hadn't gotten into music by first listening to poorly written pop music. But, when you are young and have novice ears, that is where you need to start. So, it is definitely best to get kids hooked on reading things that they enjoy. As you know, I have an M.A. in English, and I first got into reading very light fiction (remember those books where you could choose different endings?) Then, I spent a long time in the world of fantasy and science fiction. The metaphor of a journey is a good fit for process of learning to love reading. Captain Underpants isn't the worse place to start.

CrossView said...

I love the book nook idea! If I claim my half hour, will I get snacks? ;o)

I HATE the Captain Underpants series. But if that was what it took for my own reluctant reader to get excited - I'd buy a bunch. LOL! We did go through a phase of Spider-Man comics which thrilled me just as much as the Captain, by the way.

Annie H. said...

i can totally relate. My oldest is not a "natural" reader, so while cringing, bought the 3 Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. Result: i have never seen her nose in a book like it has been the past week. and my youngest daughter (who loves to read) is reading them in 1 1/2 days herself. I'm going to put them on the shelf for Luke when he's ready. Blessings!


P.S. LOVE your reading nook idea with the treat. Great idea.

dclouser said...

Hey, I wanted to see the pictures! I laughed and laughed at the mind picture of Michael zooming around in his underpants and cape while Jacob read the good parts. That was priceless! Even if Michael never decides he loves to read, you will have wonderful stories to tell - hee hee.

Courtney said...

My almost 12 year old was a very reluctant reader as well, until about maybe 3 years ago my husband suggested they read the first book in the Redwall series, and now you can't get the child to put a book down. Maybe it will turn around for your reluctant one as well.