Top Ten Reasons Students Should Read More Whole Books and Fewer Passages and Packets by Cari White
This seems like a list that should be written by Captain Obvious, right? Of course students should read whole books from beginning to end! But does that really happen at your school? Or does the workroom copier groan under the load of stapled packets with “passages” and related multiple-choice questions? Are students unable to find their library books because they haven’t seen them in so long?
Students deserve time during the school day to read books, one page after another, journeying with the author through every scene to the end of the book. Why?
- Empathy. Students need time to walk in another person’s shoes, a fictional character who is different from them. We develop empathy by looking at life through someone else’s eyes, thinking their thoughts and feeling their emotions. This rarely happens in a few short paragraphs. We need to fully experience the triumph of a lonely child making a friend and the journey of a reluctant hero before we can truly understand those viewpoints.
- Treasure. Reading is a treat, a sweet delight, the dessert to the healthy meal of math facts and spelling tests. Reading should not become the drudgery of filling in bubble answers, or of toiling through passages about characters we don’t have enough time to know or care about.
- Movies. I often explain to students that when I read a book, I see the story happening like a movie in my mind. I want our students to have enough sensory descriptions to build the whole world of the book in their imaginations, to watch the scenes unfold as the pages turn. That world can’t be built in five paragraphs.
- Canned Spinach. Have you ever tried a food that was poorly cooked? And after that, you didn’t want to try that food ever again? I ate plenty of canned spinach in my childhood, and I don’t care to ever see spinach in any form on my plate. If we serve our students canned words on plate after plate, day after day, is it any wonder that they push away from the reading table?
- Choices and Consequences. Our library has many books where characters make unwise choices and experience the harsh consequences that life provides. I want my students to live vicariously through choices like theft, dishonesty, or meanness, so that they don’t have to experience that pain for themselves. They need to be fully invested in the character through chapters of life before they will fully feel the impact of that life lesson.
- Travel. Many of our students will never leave the town we teach them in, much less our country. How will they know what it’s really like to flee from the violence of war or to walk miles for clean water? How will they visit the streets of Harlem or a Vietnamese jungle? Yes, they can gain factual knowledge in a paragraph. But will they know what life in another place is really like?
- Identity. Many librarians have experienced the phenomenon of a student who can read very few words in a Harry Potter book wanting to check it out anyway and carry it around so that she can be known as a Harry Potter reader. Do you know any students who want to proudly display their comprehension packets?
- Growth. We learn about life and how to be a human as we watch characters grow and change over the course of a novel. When parents spend more time on their devices than they do talking to their children, educators need allies like the Penderwicks and other fictional families to help us teach students how to be a friend, a brother, a sister, and someday a parent.
- Dreams. What will our students be when they “grow up?” What kind of life can they imagine for themselves? We want our students to find role models they care about beyond the sensational media that bombards us. Admiring a cardiologist, or a mural painter, or a space explorer, those are inspirations worth their pursuit.
- A Good Story. To tell a good story takes time and many words. Our students deserve a life filled with well-told stories, rather than words engineered for the standards-based questions that can be asked. They deserve stories that will live on in their hearts and minds, thoughtful words influencing the humans that they will become.
Cari White has been an educator for 16 years and is currently the librarian at Fox Run Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, where she loves to share whole books with her students. You can find more of her thoughts about growing readers at her blog, LibraryLearners.com.