Learning to Share: How I Created a Culture of Reading with Second Semester Seniors by Lauren Nizol
I love books. I savor them, and I love to neatly organize the spines by genre on my solid wood bookcases at home. Yet, I’ve learned that a good book is better placed in the hands of my students than showcased on my shelves. When I share the books that intrigue me most, my students become engaged readers.
As a child, I would read for hours at a time and late into the night. Some nights I would even finish an entire book in several hours! Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this experience “flow”, and it’s this flow which creates joy that leads us to recreate the experience over and over again. In Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk “Flow, the secret to happiness,” he explains that with deep flow a “sense of time disappears.” It’s this flow where Csikszentmihalyi says, “you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger.” Getting a reader to “flow” leads them to become transfixed and engaged in a text in meaningful ways–the foundation of a critical reader. As English teachers, we want our students to be lifelong readers who seek to recreate the feeling of book love over and over again. And that’s why I lend the books that I love most to any student who will read them.
Lending a book to a reader always comes with the risk that it may not come back. But it’s well worth the risk–especially when teachers are trying to grow engaged and independent readers. When I left my second semester seniors to go on maternity leave, one of my most thoughtful readers, Dion, begged me to borrow my copy of Room by Emma Donoghue. I allowed him, but I told him that it was important–really important to me that I got it back because I had some serious love for that book. He assured me that he would be kind to my book, and off he went.
Dion’s eagerness to borrow my book was certainly a good sign, but I left wondering what would happen to our daily reading ritual when I wasn’t there to lead it? I knew that Dion would continue to read, but would his peers? After all, this group of second semester seniors were in the slumpy stage of the semester.
To my surprise, while I was away my guest teacher kept the ritual intact with little pushback from my students. When I returned to say my final good-bye on the last day for seniors, Dion showed me that my copy of Room had found its way back on its bookshelf, but not before he passed it on to several of his classmates. What he told me next was pure book karma.
“I book talked it when I finished, Nizol. You wouldn’t believe it. Sam even read it. He couldn’t put it down, and he didn’t talk to anyone for a week.”
“Sam?” This young man had put up the biggest resistance to reading and school, in general. Getting him to be absorbed in any task was a feat. But Dion had somehow convinced him to read Room, and his last reading experience of high school had him transfixed. Needless to say, it wasn’t Frankenstein (our class assigned text that semester) that got him hooked; it was the freedom to read a book of his choice, at his own pace. Sam had finally found his flow.
Paying it Forward
So how do I pay forward my book love? I share my books freely. It wasn’t always easy for me to share my books, especially the ones that I love most, but I learned that if I want kids to read more, I have to find them books that will lead them to their flow. It’s books like this that inspire students like Dion to pay forward a good book and lead reluctant readers like Sam to pick them up in the first place. Books need not be shelved away upon completion–books deserve to have a lifespan that goes beyond one reader.
When I wasn’t there, Dion had been my voice talking about books and pairing students with the just right book. To answer my question: yes, my students continued to read while I was gone. But they did more than just read. They inspired each other to find book love, and reinforced to me the importance of sharing my books with all readers, willing or reluctant.
Lauren Nizol (@CoachNizol) is an MTSS Student Support Coach and Interventionist at Novi High School. She has eleven years of classroom experience, teaching English, IB Theory of Knowledge and English Lab. Lauren completed her undergraduate degree in History, English and Secondary Education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and her Masters in English Education from Eastern Michigan University. She has guest blogged for Oakland Schools Literacy and the Eastern Michigan Writing Project. Lauren is advocate for underperforming students and literacy interventions and is always willing to share a good book.