Education Opinion

Time to Lean, Time to Read

By Donalyn Miller — November 11, 2007 1 min read

One often heard mantra from my old food service days (check out resume references from the late ‘80s) was, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” Managers regularly prodded line workers to clean instead of stand around during slow periods. Applying this philosophy to reading, I now believe, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to read.”

I am packing for the NCTE Conference this week, and besides tracking down my coat (it is twenty degrees colder in NYC than Texas), I am selecting books to read on the trip. Currently in the pile- Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass and A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. Sadly, I cannot read on moving transport (motion sickness) so reading on planes and shuttles is out, but I know I will spend plenty of time waiting in airports and conference rooms. Prime reading time!

I am suspicious when people tell me that they “do not have time to read”, and even more shocked when teachers tell me that they do not have time in class for students to read a self-selected book. I capture a substantial amount of time for my students to read each day. Students read while they are waiting in line to be dismissed, waiting for class pictures, or when an interruption such as a phone call halts instruction. These moments can stack up significant reading time for students. Disruptive behavior during unstructured time becomes a non-issue, too.

I have also abandoned “warm-ups” and “when you are done” activities. I have yet to find a research proven reason for asking students to edit sentences or write journal entries for a class opener- same for those fun folders for the fast finishers. When students walk into my class, they start to read. Reading is the best way to warm-up for my class, and prepares students for instruction that circles back to their own books. If some students finish class work early, I encourage them to grab a few more precious minutes of reading time.

Recently, at a curriculum writing meeting, a colleague was alarmed when I told her I did not provide extra activities for students to complete when they finished class assignments. “Don’t you think students will rush their work in order to get back to their books?” I waited for a beat, and replied, “Lord, I hope so!”

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