Yesterday I read an article that joyfully proclaimed that teachers should read fiction if we are to become even better teachers. The title, "Ten Ways Reading Fiction Makes You a Better Teacher," had me convinced that I should pick up some fiction before even thinking about what books I'd like to read for PD. The article outlined some very obvious and some not so obvious benefits we receive from reading fiction. Becoming more empathetic, growing our own vocabularies, and enhancing our theory of mind abilities were among the very good reasons to stop and read fiction.
I'm on it!
I had sent out a tweet asking friends for book suggestions. One of my dearest friends sent me a great list. On the list were a few I've already read and really enjoyed. However, I'd read them for a book club during the school year (never a relaxing time for me to read) and I flew through them to get them finished in time for our book club meeting. I have a bad habit of doing this. Sometimes this happens when I just want to find out what happens so badly that I plow on through but more often than not, I do it when I'm up against a deadline. Anyway, I've decided to reread two of the books on the list. They are Boys on the Boat by Daniel James Brown and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. I will go slow and savor the details this time and then I'll move on to a few others.
Do you know what? I do this same thing in the classroom. I rush us through books. I try to stick to "the plan." So, if it is a chapter a day or three chapters a day, I make every effort to "get through" the text. When I reflect on that list of ten benefits of reading fiction, I think I'm being shortsighted by moving so quickly and I'm missing out on important opportunities to capitalize on the truly awesome literature we read together. That really is my number one complaint around the Common Core ELA standards. There is so much to "cover". This is not to say that all of those standards are not worthy of our attention. They are...but.... Really, the standards suggest that we spend nearly equal time on fiction and non-fiction. While a lot of our non-fiction standards can be effectively addressed in science and social studies classes there is still a ton to do. Then there is the pressure associated with having a fairly new, six-unit, basal reader to "cover". And I KNOW...it is just a RESOURCE but there is this curriculum map painstakingly laid out by my colleagues and me in Rubicon Atlas, complete with essential questions and activities that I "should" be sticking to.
I believe that my students deserve rich experiences with high quality fiction. I carefully select the texts we read together. I'm going to try to slow down this next year even if that means I can't cover all the material I traditionally cover. I'm thinking again about those readers' notebooks and I'm wondering how I can use them to slow us down and to think deeply about each text.
Are you a teacher who wants to feel inspired to read more fiction, guilt free? Start with this very good article and then search out the books you deserve to read!
"Ten Ways Reading Fiction Makes You a Better Teacher"