Ever since reading Nancie Atwell’s landmark book In the Middle 20 years ago, I have used reading interviews as a way to get to know my students. Ideally, I like to sit with students one-on-one and use the questions as a guide to a conversation about their reading habits and preferences. I often give a different version of the interview mid-year as a paper-and-pencil activity.
Both of these interviews give me a glimpse into my students as readers. I see patterns as I look at similarities in the answers they give. But the interviews provide much more than a window into students’ reading. I have found that interviews start classroom conversations about the behaviors and habits of readers. These interviews plant the seeds for many students of what is possible.
In the past, my interviews have been focused on book reading. I have asked questions such as these:
- What types of books do you like?
- What types of books do you not like?
- Is there a series that you enjoy?
- Where do you read?
- When do you read?
- Who do you talk to about books?
- What kinds of things do the people in your family read?
- Who is your favorite author? Why?
Even if students don’t have much experience with reading or don’t identify themselves as readers, these questions are a catalyst for future conversations. I find that after I ask questions like this, students begin to pay more attention to themselves as readers. They often come to me days after the interview to tell me that they now have a different answer to a question I asked. The comments let me know that the questions give students a message about what is valued when it comes to reading.
Revising the Interview to Account for New Technology
My interviews have remained almost the same for many years. I’ve added a question here and there. But for the most part, the interviews have been focused on the same types of reading behaviors. I realized this year that my interviews were becoming outdated. They were missing the changing habits of readers who are comfortable with computers, tablets, and e-readers. I decided it was time to add new questions.
As I reflect on my own reading, I realize that much of my daily reading is not in the form of traditional books. I read on my Kindle, highlighting and taking notes that I can get to online. I “follow” several blogs that are delivered to me through email. I read professional articles that I get as links from friends on Twitter. I’ve canceled many of my paper magazine subscriptions and begin to read more magazines on my iPad. My reading life has changed considerably over the last few years, and I know my students’ reading lives are changing too.
I want to know more about my students’ reading experiences, and expand their sense of where, when, and what is possible for their reading lives. I continue to ask many of the questions from the original interview, but I have included others that add value to things other than traditional books they may be reading. I want to know whether my students have e-book readers in their homes, and if they have blogs they follow. I have added questions like these to the reading interview:
- How often do you read each day? (Don’t count only book reading.)
- What do you know about the ways you can read other than paper books?
- Do you usually read paper books or other types of books? Explain.
- What kinds of things do you read online or on a computer/phone/tablet?
- Do you read any blogs or websites on a regular basis? If your answer is yes, how often?
- What kinds of things do your family members read?
- Do you read on any type of e-reader?
- Have you read anything that includes other types of media (video, etc.) as part of the story?
- Have you ever read an audiobook?
- What do you think is a challenge of online reading?
- What are some things you are curious about when it comes to reading today?
After reading interviews this fall, we had great conversations about all the reading we do. I learned a lot. My students knew more about e-book and online reading than I had anticipated, even if it was just because a parent had a Kindle. I had no idea that you could read books on gaming systems, but students assured me that you could. I still don’t quite understand how this works, but I have a goal this year to figure it out. Students seemed glad that these types of reading were being valued as much as book reading. My challenge is to make sure that I value many types of reading in the reading workshop.
I think that the reading interview will continue to change and evolve. The best way for me to keep student reading interviews authentic and relevant is to pay attention to my own reading habits. With new technologies, the definition of what it means to be a reader will continue to expand. I need to make sure that as a teacher, I continue to expand the types of reading that are valued in the classroom and library.