There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
As a child, I was trained to finish every book I started. The approach of the old-fashioned teachers in my rural elementary school — a philosophy shared by the crusty, grumpy, scary school librarian — was simple: You start it, you finish it.
I was a compliant student, so I did as I was told. All through school and into college, I finished every book I started. I felt enormous guilt if I didn’t. If I simply couldn’t bear it — a book was too dense, too frivolous, or held no interest for me whatsoever — I’d play tricks on myself instead of admitting I was abandoning it. I’d “lose” the book on the bus. I’d let it fall behind the couch and “forget” where I’d put it. I’d “accidentally” put it in the stack of textbooks being sold back to the bookstore.
One day on a visit home, my mother asked me what I was reading. This was typical — she’s always interested in what I’m reading, and I love hearing what books are in her hands at the moment. But this time when she asked the question, I moaned. I admitted the shameful truth: “I’m reading a book I hate.”
She laughed. “What is it?”
“It’s a book the entire universe is reading, Mom,” I lamented. “The DaVinci Code. Everyone loves it. They rave about it. It’s sold a zillion copies. But I hate it. I don’t get it. What am I missing?” I told her each page was painful to slog through, but I was going to finish it, by God. I would keep soldiering on, because that is what one does with books. One obtains them, and one finishes them.
“Why in the world would you do that?” she asked. “Stop reading it. Just stop. Get a different book.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I have to finish so I know what the big hoopla is all about.”
“But there are so many other good books out there,” she protested. “It’s like when you were dating Steve. Remember?”
I knew exactly what she was talking about. I’d dated Steve several years beforehand. He had been a nice enough guy. He was kind, decent, and funny, and we got along very well. I always knew he wasn’t going to be a guy I’d marry. I was just dating him until “The One” came along.
But my mother was eager for me to be with someone substantial. Grandkids! Grandkids! Grandkids! she was privately thinking, as every mother with a daughter of childbearing age seems to think on a near-constant basis. She finally sat me down. “Listen,” she said. “As long as you’re with Steve, you’re not going to meet anyone else.”
It was a pretty simple truth.
I broke up with him.
And then I met a wonderful man who was perfect for me.
So when I told her I wouldn’t abandon the book, she made the same point. “If you’re reading The DaVinci Code, you’re not reading something fabulous for you. Something you love. The book you love is out there, wasted, while you’re trying to get through this one.”
I gave my copy of the book to some other poor soul and felt liberated and finally, guilt-free. I went off to the bookstore and nosed around until I found one that looked right for me. That time, it was Melissa Banks’ The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing. I devoured it, and then reread it so many times I had entire sentences memorized. I loved that book.
Now I understand why it’s so important to give students permission to abandon books that don’t work for them. Even if everyone they know raves about a text, it mustn’t mean they have to read it and enjoy it. This is especially true with what I think of as “trend texts” — books that are widely read just because it’s the popular thing to say you’ve read it. Of course we must encourage students not to abandon books recklessly, but forcing students to finish a text in hopes something will eventually resonate with them is a mistake. Much like dating the wrong boyfriend, reading the wrong text just means you are not reading the right one.
This week we’re featuring tips for better conferring. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jennifer Schwanke is a principal in Dublin, Ohio. She also blogs about her personal pursuits at http://jengoingbig.blogspot.com/
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Here are two articles from the archives chock-full of tips for conferring.
Franki Sibberson provides focus questions and a template to help choose books with students for independent reading:
The zone of proximal development continues to be an important frame for noting where writers are at and what’s next. Ruth Shagoury lists questions at different phases of writing to help nudge writers forward in their zones:
The shift from picture to chapter books requires some new conferring strategies. The good folks at the chartchums blog have suggestions for conversing with students new to chapter books:
This Goodreads infographic on what makes readers abandon books will spark ideas for minilessons at almost any grade level:
Have you visited our new subscription site, Lead Literacy? It’s packed with articles and videos all focused on guiding teachers in professional development settings:
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You can view Ruth Ayres in action in this week’s video as she confers with Ezra about revision, using a mentor text to help him move from reporting to crafting in his writing:
Katherine Sokolowski describes how she worked over the past few years to initiate Better Reading Conferences:
Tony Keefer confers with fourth grader Tommy to help him write a stronger ending in this week’s bonus video:
If you’re interested in more videos and feature articles on conferring, there are dozens available in the Conferring section of the website:
That’s all for this week!