I've spent quite a bit of time since my school year ended reading for pleasure. I have always been a reader. My mother and my maternal grandfather have always loved books as well. My grandpa died when I was 19 years old and I remember when he had passed and we were tasked with helping my grandma clean out grandpa's version of a man cave. It was full of books!
When I was a kid, if I was really bad, my parents didn't ground me from the television or video games, the grounded me from books (I know, I know). That is how deep my love of the written word is. I love to read. It saddens me every year how many students I have (often boys but not exclusively) who just do not like to read for whatever reason.
Over the years I have used many methods in my literacy classroom. As I move to 3rd grade, knowing how vital 3rd grade reading scores are in determining the future success of the students, I have been doing a lot of research on my own on how best to modify my literacy teaching. With National Board Certification in Literacy, I certainly have a lot of knowledge and experience to draw from....but sometimes that goes out the window once children are actually in front of you. Every child is different and has different needs.
I have found over the five years I have taught at my current school that choice is magic for my kids. I'm in a low-income inner city school; for a lot of our kids the tough love approach is the only one that works because they need the absolute consistency of high expectations. I will never forget the guilt that permeated my class this year when I was absent and the students were horrible. I did not yell and scream at them (though I kind of wanted to!), I just calmly told them how disappointed I was that they would treat a guest in our school so poorly. They knew they had disappointed me and that was worse than me yelling. They were very different people for the few days following that because they knew how disappointed I was. Expectations make a big difference. So do those choices. It is its own brand of magic.
One area I have insisted my students have a lot of choice in is the things they read for Silent Reading. I have a huge classroom library--probably the biggest in my school (although one of my 5th grade colleagues may have me beat). I have about 900 books of my own plus the books that I have available from my school. I am always buying books for my students. The wide selection of books is vital to helping students begin to love reading and I am certain that is why I usually see huge gains in my reading scores each year.
We use MAP testing at our school and it provides each student with a Lexile range. While I do expect that my students read on their level when reading independently so they can practice their strategies in a "just right book", I do also allow them to select one book in their book box that is any book they want, regardless of its level. This may mean a child who is at a 300 level will pick up the first Harry Potter book or a Percy Jackson book. They relish that one "off level" choice. They also know that if they aren't successful with it, they can try again with another off level book. This piques their interest and often pushes them to read better because they want to read harder and more interesting books.
Which brings me to my rant and the point of this post. The Littles are now 12 and 13 (yikes....how did that happen??). They both have late year birthdays (November and December). Middle Child is dyslexic so getting her to read is a tough task. She is going into 8th grade but reads on a late 4th grade level. Unfortunately there aren't many books at a 4th grade level that capture her interest anymore. My 12 year old is going into 7th grade but also has a lower reading level. I suspect she is just not a good test taker because I know she can read and comprehend books at a higher level than where she is testing at school (also late 4th grade). This girl also loves to write creatively and rarely have I seen a child who likes to write but doesn't like to read.
I have the entire Harry Potter series and most of the Percy Jackson series in my library. I am a die hard Potter fan having read all of the books multiple times (even sending the kids to my mom's for the night when Deathly Hallows came out so I could read it uninterrupted and I did...in about 7 hours). I had not read any of the Percy books and in talks with my students this year figured I'd better.
I watched The Lightning Thief with the Littles so I knew what it was about. I told Middle Child that she must be a demigod because she's dyslexic just like Percy. I asked both girls if they had ever read it before and Middle Child said no because it wasn't her kind of book (she loves Hugh Jackman and is obsessed with all things Wolverine, including comics). The Youngest said no because my teacher won't let me because it's not on my level.
Friends, I may well have seen red at that declaration. I was SO livid. Yes, I do entirely understand and appreciate the "just right book". However I would NEVER tell a child they couldn't read a book because it wasn't on their level! (Sidenote: I actually do say that to kiddos when it comes to library books from the school library since they have them for such a limited time but if the child really is interested in a particular library book and I don't have a copy of it, I'll either make an exception or I'll check it out myself and let the child read it since I can keep it longer. I don't just say "it's not on your level too bad for you!") Way to kill their interest in reading!
So this just makes me absolutely more adamant that I will not stifle children's curiosity and what they WANT to read (unless it is obviously inappropriate--I wouldn't let a 3rd grader read The Hunger Games for example because the content is too much for that age).
Provide boundaries but make them reasonable. Don't tell kids they can't read a book just because it's not "on their level"! Let them try. Chances are, they will rise to it and work to understand because they are invested in the content.