The Lesson I Learned From My Daughter About Reading Choice by Kristin Becker
I believe that students should have a choice and voice in what they read. Over the course of my career, I’ve taught in schools where the administrator supported an instructional model where students have choice and I have taught in schools with a scripted reading program where I was directed to follow program. These experiences have allowed me to feel what it is like as the educator in both circumstances – joy and a sense of community in a classroom with choice and then despair and struggle when following a scripted program. I can say that my students made academic progress in both models; however, the gains were far greater in my classroom where students had choice. More importantly, my students who were given choice of what they read developed and nurtured a love of reading.
The same can be said for my little reader at home, right?
We have been reading to my daughter Madeline since she was in the womb. After she was born, reading was automatically part of the bedtime routine, even as a newborn. I realize that I am not alone in my reading routine with my daughter, but I was almost obsessive about the way I was going about bedtime reading. I started with my childhood favorites when reading to Madeline, but in my quest to expose my daughter to as much print as possible, I began a picture book spending spree like no other. I don’t mean to paint excessive book buying as a negative (I know that I am in good company when it comes to this); however, the mindset was about exposing my daughter to as many books as possible not so much in the joy of reading. It was easy to behave like this when Madeline could not talk.
At two, Madeline started expressing preferences for books by Anna Dewdney and Victoria Kann. In typical toddler fashion, Madeline would request the same book be read over and over and over and over and over again. There was some reprieve when we were able to read a different book by the same author but in general, we were reading the same books constantly. It was to the point where we could say the words of the book without really reading them. I grew tired of this and started requiring that we read different books each night to Madeline – mommy’s choice. After all, I wanted my daughter to be exposed to all types of books; I wanted to expand her vocabulary; I wanted her to meet multiple authors.
Books being chosen solely by me worked for a short time. Madeline loves the personal connection (aka cuddling) involved in bedtime reading so she was compliant with me choosing what to read. However, the time came when she started asserting herself more and reverted back to choosing books that she wanted to read repeatedly. I was insistent on a variety of books. Reading together was becoming a real battle.
The battle came to an end when Madeline sat on her bed, arms folded across her chest, back to me, refusing to read the book with me. It was at that moment that I realized that I was turning my daughter away from reading. In my quest to expose her to as much as possible, to build her vocabulary, I had taken away her opportunity to use the repetition as a way to make meaning of the flow of language. I had taken away her right to read her favorites over and over again. I had taken away her voice.
I was horrified at what I had done.
I spend my professional life advocating for students to have choice in what they read yet I was not doing the same with my own daughter. I made an immediate change. From that point on we both choose. There are times when Madeline chooses everything we are going to read and then there are times where she chooses a book and I choose one. Often times, the book I choose becomes Madeline’s new favorite. Our book reading is far more about loving the book.
The lesson I learned from Madeline is that choice matters. We have a responsibility to support students’ rights to choose what they read. We can still expose them to multiple styles and genres. We can still teach them strategies and concepts. In the end, our children, whether at home or in the classroom, must be given a choice in what they read lest they become the small child with her arms folded and back turned toward a book.
Kristin Becker is a beginning teacher mentor and member of the Nerdy Book Club. She blogs at buzzfrombecker.blogspot.com and can found on Twitter as @littlemamab.