A Reading Life Is Not Linear by Clare Landrigan
“Thank you … I have been thinking about what you said”.
I turn to locate the voice and wonder, “Is he talking to me?”
Our eyes meet.
“You came to my class last week. You told us that reading wasn’t always easy for you. No teacher ever says that. I have been thinking about it,” he admits.
I remember the lesson in his class. I shared a time when my reading life wasn’t strong. I shared an entry from my reader’s notebook:
Since my mom died in January, I have had a lot of trouble reading. My mind wanders, I lose track of the plot, and I cannot seem to connect with the characters. I need to read for my job. I have been able to get through the books I need to read and even analyze them, but the joy just hasn’t been there for me. I notice that I have not been reading for pleasure. I have tried lots of different types of books and modalities – paper, digital, and audio. I have tried reading at different times of the day and in different places. My heart just isn’t in it and my brain is following suit.
His voice brings me back to the present moment.
He continues, “School sometimes makes me feel like if I don’t love reading something is wrong. I don’t always love reading. I find it hard to find a book I like. My teacher said you teach teachers about reading so if you had a hard time reading it makes me feel better. I hope I meet characters that guide me.”
I remember that after I shared that entry from my notebook, I shared another entry from six months later:
I shared with them that these words from the characters guided me. These characters helped me realize I lost a kindred soul and therefore a piece of myself. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of endings and I couldn’t see how things would go on. My mind was consumed with finding a new beginning. These books showed me the way. The way for me was to write. I needed to write. I needed to write stories that celebrated my mom. I needed to remember so that I could begin again. So, I wrote. I wrote until I could read again.
As an adult, I have control over my reading and writing life. I decide when, how and what I will read and write. I knew what I needed and had the freedom to do it. I realize that this choice allowed me to find my way back into reading at a time when it was difficult for me. This has pushed me to think about the options we are providing for our students. Why do we need to have our reading and writing workshops completely separate? Can we have more of a flow between reading and writing? Is there space for our students to choose the best mode for their literate thinking on a particular day or period of time? Are there times when the work we need to do as a reader is writing and the work we need to do as a writer is reading? Do we honor what is happening in someone’s life and give them the freedom to find their way? I believe there needs to be more fluidity between reading and writing. Students need the power and agency to choose the work they need to do to fully engage in the curriculum. Does it really matter if they think about an author’s purpose or if they have purpose as an author? I think we can teach them what they need to learn either way and we should provide differing entry points for students.
A reading life is not linear and for many of us, it is filled with bumps along the way. We need to make sure we create time to regularly check in with our readers and writers to find out how things are going for them. We need to understand how they are feeling and why they are feeling the way they are if we want to engage them. We need to be open and ready to hear and accept their honest answers. I hope we honor what they need and give them options so they can once again find purpose and joy in their reading and writing lives. I hope we can create the space for them to meet characters who will guide them and help them find their way back to their reading lives.
Clare Landrigan is a staff developer who is still a teacher at heart. She leads a private staff development business and spends her days partnering with school systems to implement best practices in the field of literacy. She believes that effective professional development includes side by side teaching; analysis of student work; mutual trust; respect; and a good dose of laughter. She is the co-author of, It’s All About the Books published by Heinemann and Assessment in Perspective,published by Stenhouse. She blogs about books and the art of teaching on her website www.clarelandrigan.com