Education Opinion

Have You Praised a Reader Today?

By Donalyn Miller — January 30, 2008 2 min read
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Staggering out of bed at 5:00 am, I boot up my laptop and start typing sub plans. I hate to be absent, but my swollen throat and painful ear leave me no choice. I begin my plans with the same opening paragraphs I have used before:

Dear Sub,

Thank you for coming to my class today. The students are great and I know that you will have an enjoyable day with them. Please talk with my teaching partner next door if you have any questions about my plans or need help.

When students enter the classroom, they should get out their books and read. This is not free time or study hall, but an important part of our reading class. Do not allow students to work on homework, draw, or play board games…

Now, my students know that they are supposed to read at the beginning of every class, but they are kids, and while the cat’s away… I have been caught by surprise many times when the fine people who have substituted in my room have seen this reading time as free time that I have added to my plans in the absence of something “instructional” to do.

Hopefully, our students know reading is important. Is the only place they hear this message in reading class? What confounds me is the number of adults out there who do not realize that their attitudes may be sending the unintentional message that reading is a waste of time.

Take our recent fieldtrip. Anticipating a long bus ride and a bit of standing around, several of my students brought their books with them.

Seeing children with books in tow, the university docent, who was leading our tour, was annoyed, “They should not have those books.”

I assured her, “They won’t read while we are on the tour. Why shouldn’t they have them?”

Flustered, she said, “Well…they might lose them!”

I think it bugged her that my students might think any part of the fieldtrip was so boring that they might need a diversion. When was the last time she had to sit for an hour on a school bus?

I have been approached on the playground and gently advised that one of my students, a soccer champ, should put down her book and get some exercise. I have been told that it is dangerous to let my students walk down the hall reading. I had a colleague tell me a few years ago that I was preventing a student from developing his social skills because I let him read at lunch. When I pointed out to her that he was elected by the other kids as our class student council representative, she dropped it.

Perhaps, having only seen reading take place within the confines of a school desk cage, these well-meaning adults no longer recognize what reading looks like in the wild.

This misunderstanding doesn’t end when school does. My husband, a lifetime reader, takes on the mystique of the last passenger pigeon when other commuters waiting for the train eye him with his latest book.

Yes, I think exercise, socializing, and fieldtrips are valuable parts of my students’ education, but let’s not forget that they learn a lot about behavioral norms from us, too. If the adults with whom children come in daily contact don’t encourage their reading habits, what message are we sending?

So, have you praised a reader today? One outside of a classroom? They are out there-- I promise. Scope out those buses, lunchrooms, and lines; find yourself a reader, and praise them loud and clear. You might be doing more for that child, and everyone within earshot, than anything else you planned to do today.

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.