Practicing What I Preach by Heather Del Piano
As a middle school reading teacher, I completely support the idea of giving students a choice in what they read and modeling reading behavior for them. Since I love reading, it is easy for me to do my own independent reading every day; I even take notes on my reading. I enjoy writing down quotes from books and my thoughts on them, or simply admiring the language of a novel.
This January, when I had my students pick out nonfiction books, I decided it was only fair if I had to pick nonfiction books to read along with them. I’m not adverse to nonfiction, but it is never my go-to choice. I tend to vacillate between fantasy, science fiction, realistic fiction, historical fiction, and graphic novels. Occasionally I may throw in a memoir or sociology book; however, the bulk of my reading is YA fantasy. In my attempts to show my students the importance of reading nonfiction, I realized I should also be reading nonfiction.
This year I gathered a variety of nonfiction books from the public library to complete my goal. I read a few memoirs, an activism guide for girls, a history of fonts, an investigative journalism book about a library fire, and two money guides. At the end of the month, I shared with my students how my experiment with nonfiction went and what I discovered. Nonfiction as a whole is way too broad of a genre to be disliked based on one or two types of books. It is all about finding the right book at the right time. I discovered I like memoirs, advice books, or books with short chapters or anecdotes.
What I did not enjoy was reading a book that listed fact after fact. I then confessed to them that I abandoned the book I was reading about the collapse of the Berlin Wall. During other lessons throughout the year, I referenced the Berlin Wall and the students know I am very interested in this historical topic. Yet, after sixty pages of painfully struggling to read the book, I listened to my own advice that I give students almost daily. I stopped reading it and picked up another nonfiction book. I’m all for my students abandoning a book. Since I want my students to read, I like to make sure they are enjoying their books. When they are not interested in the book, they do not read as much. Therefore, it is better to have then abandon a book and begin to read more.
However, as an adult, I still rarely abandon books I am not enjoying. I painfully plodded through the book Tinkers for a book club and found out later that all the other members didn’t finish the book. Honestly, they were the smart ones. There have been some best sellers that I continued to read because I figured at some point, I may understand why it got such good reviews. I’m still scratching my head over a few of them. If I am not assigned to read these books for a class, and they are indeed pleasure reading, I should have a pleasurable experience reading them.
After opening up to my students about my own struggles, many of them could relate. I discussed with many of them why we abandoned certain books and what we learned about ourselves as readers because of it. They did not think any less of me as their reading teacher for giving up on a book. There are so many books on my TBR shelf waiting to be read and I don’t want to waste any of my precious reading time on a dud. At the end of this experiment, I’ve decided I’ll definitely be adding more nonfiction into my reading rotation. More importantly, I am going to continue giving myself permission to stop reading books that I do not enjoy. I should start listening to my own advice.
Heather Del Piano is a 6th grade English teacher in New Jersey. When she’s not teaching, she can be found writing her own stories, reading books, seeing Broadway shows, training for her next race, or coaching middle school sports. The amount of cards and letters she mails out may single-handedly be keeping the USPS afloat. One day, Heather hopes to publish one of her own books.