by Felicia Truman, corps member serving at Gossler Park Elementary School
Every student is a reader. This is not to say that every student has walked into the classrooms I serve in with a love of reading, but I believe that every student has the potential to become a reader. Everyday City Year corps members, including myself, work to help improve students’ comprehension and fluency. But while these strategies we teach are essential, I believe the most important thing we encourage is a love of reading. This isn’t something that comes easy to everyone, especially to those who struggle with reading or just haven’t found the right book, but I think it’s possible. I truly believe every student is a reader, but many just need someone to believe in them to gain the confidence to call themselves a reader.
This week my reading group is reading “The Magic Tree House: Tonight on the Titanic” by Mary Pope Osborne. My students love the Titanic. One of them has read at least three books, independently, on the subject and this has sparked interest in my other students as well. My partner teacher had introduced the subject and my students were hooked. They wanted to learn more about this unsinkable ship so they began to study on their own. I introduced the Magic Tree House book as a way to learn more in a fun way, with characters that were relatable, and a difficulty level they could manage. It has been a treat to revisit a series that I had loved as a child with my own students. And it has been exciting to me to watch them want to read.
The Magic Tree House session was successful because it was something that had value to them. They weren’t just reading a book I had assigned because it was something I wanted them to do; it was a book that was selected because it was interesting to them. I had given them three options to choose from and they had voted on this book. I wanted them to take ownership over what they were reading. I thought that if they had chosen the book themselves it would have more value and they would be more likely to want to read it. As simple as it seems, I think children will be more likely to read and be successful at reading if they want to read the material presented.
And it’s worked. One of my students finished the book before group because he enjoyed it so much. I had wanted us to read the story together so I told him we were still going to finish the book as a group because that was what had been agreed upon when we selected the text. He said he liked the book so much that he told me he didn’t mind reading it twice. His only problem is now he is so excited about the book that I have to remind him to not give away important plot points to the other children.
I still believe that it is good for teachers to select texts for their students to read. When I was a student my teachers introduced me to texts I fell in love with but probably wouldn’t have picked up off the shelf myself. I would have missed out on important pieces of literature that have helped shaped the person I am now. This being said, I also believe students should have more freedom to choose books that they might be interested in. With the student I mentioned earlier, his teacher had been the one to introduce the Titanic but it was he who took the initiative to read more outside the classroom because he was interested in the subject. That is why in my reading group I try to give them options based on what they have told me they are interested in.
I think the most important task I have as someone who runs a reading group is to help my students reach their potential as readers. As with anything, practice makes perfect. To become stronger readers students need to read. And many need someone to believe in them because then they can believe in themselves. I want them to want to read without me. I hope that after my service year they will pick books off the shelf not because of its designated “difficulty” level or because it’s something they have to read, but because they want to learn and because they consider themselves a reader. I believe that the most important thing City Year does for its students is teach them that we are all readers.