Empathetic Reading

This summer, I’ve read several professional development (PD) books, which has been great for stretching my mind and allowing me to reflect on my teaching and learning. While I really enjoy (yes, enjoy) reading PD books, I felt like I might be missing out on something. Two books I read this summer proved that intuition to be true.

The first book I read on the topic of reading was Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. In her book, she mentioned that she never put a book in her classroom library without having read it herself first. She wanted to make sure she had quality books in her classroom for students at all times. Talk about dedication!

While I can’t say the same for my classroom library, I was encouraged and challenged after reading Donalyn’s book. I wanted to be able to have real conversations with my students about the books they were reading, and I wanted to be able to make quality recommendations of books I’ve read myself. I decided that this summer, I would alternate between reading PD books and children’s literature. I knew that by reading children’s literature with the student in mind, I’d be better able to reach students through reading.

I also read Notice & Note by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst. In their book, they posed two questions that stood out to me:

  1. Am I reading enough children’s literature, young adult books, and adult books that young adults will like that I’ll know what books I might want to recommend to any particular student?
  2. Do my colleagues and I get together on a regular basis to talk about books and matching kids to books? (p. 59)

As I thought about these two questions, the answers were enlightening and a bit unnerving. No, over the past two years of teaching, I was not reading enough children’s literature to make solid recommendations to my students. No, my colleagues and I have never (to my knowledge) got together to discuss matching kids and books. Ouch.

So where do I go from here? Well, I made a commitment to myself and my students to read at least one new children’s book every two weeks this school year. I bought several children’s books this summer and at this point, have read seven. All of them were a joy to read, and I can’t wait to place them in the hands of my students! I’m planning to get together with my colleagues to have discussions about matching students with books.

I can’t be the only one who felt a bit insecure after pondering those questions. I can’t be the only one out here who has room to grow in their teaching and learning. If you relate, I hope this encourages you do join me in making a commitment to read with your students in mind, and to have conversations with your colleagues.

What about you? How do the two questions Kylene and Robert posed sit with you? Are you reading enough children’s literature to provide solid recommendations? Do you meet with colleagues to discuss matching students with books? How many of the books in your classroom library have you read? Could you carry on conversations about those books and recommend them to students based on need or preference?

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About the Author: Shawn Seeley

Father, husband, teacher, retired Marine.

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