One of the main things that keeps me reading is that I always have more books queued up to read. I’m never at a loss when I finish a book, because there’s a stack or a list or a shelf waiting. More and more, I believe that Penny Kittle’s words are the key to lifelong reading. Readers have plans.
Sometimes my reading plans look like this:
A big stack of books in no particular order.
More typically, they look like this:
Scratch notes in the back of my writer’s notebook–often complete with library call numbers so I can find the books I want on the shelves.
I keep a wish list on Amazon and a Want to Read list on Good Reads.
My reading plans develop in three ways:
- Setting reading goals
- Keeping track of what I read
- Participating in an active community of readers
First, reading goals. I have many different reading goals for each year. In January, I set goals for the new year, create new reading lists such as #MustReadin2014, and join new challenges. I have a number of ongoing goals related to the courses I teach:
- Reading the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Pura Belpre, and Schneider Family Award winners and honor books each year after those prizes are announced in January
- Completing the Top 100 Children’s Novels list (13 books left!)
- Completing the #nerdbery challenge: reading all the Newbery gold medal winners from 1922-present
- Completing the #nerdcott challenge: all the Caldecott Gold and Honor books
- Reading the contenders for School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books before March
- Reading as many Nerdy Book Club Nerdy Award finalists as I can
- Reading as many Cybils finalists as I can
- Reading one professional development book each month
I don’t always meet my goals, but these ongoing goals and challenges keep me focused on what I want to read next.
Second, keeping track of my reading. Each year at the end of December, I count how many books I’ve read for the year (GoodReads now makes that very easy!), reflect on what my reading year looked like, and choose my top 10 or so favorites. This reflection helps me set new goals, but even more, keeping track of my reading helps me identify new favorite authors and genres. I might read a terrific graphic novel and go through a graphic novel phase where I read several of those in a row. I might discover a great new-to-me picture book illustrator and request all of their books from the library. Keeping track of my reading and reflecting on how my reading year turned out shows me gaps in my reading. In 2013, for instance, I discovered that I hadn’t read many books for grown-ups, and I missed that kind of reading. So one of my goals for 2014 is to read more good books for grown-ups.
Third, participating in an active reading community. I read a lot of blogs about books and reading, and I follow a lot of very active readers, teachers, and librarians on Twitter. My reading community is constantly recommending great books that I want to read. Every Monday, I participate in a weekly blog meme, It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, where bloggers share what they read over the past week. I get so many ideas for what I want to read next just from skimming mini-reviews and descriptions of books written by people whose recommendations I trust. I also recommend books to others. I try to be a book matchmaker in my classes and draw my students–as many of them as will accept the invitation–into my reading community. The enthusiasm and excitement about books and reading that I see within my reading community every day inspire me to want to read even more–as I learn about new titles and new authors and see other reader’s excitement about genres I might be neglecting.
Not to get all chicken and egg in this post, but I suspect that making plans only feels natural, necessary, and pleasurable when there is that foundation of book love already in place. After all, if we don’t love to read, why would we find it valuable to make reading plans?
At the same time, one of the tenets of reading workshop is that students keep lists of what they want to read next: they have plans. I know that I can teach my students what I do to make plans–how I make goals, where I find books, how I keep track of my reading, why I reflect on my reading, how and why I participate in a reading community. I can require them to make plans of their own–set goals for their reading, design their own reading challenges, and keep to-be-read or wish lists.
I can teach students how to make reading plans a lot more easily than I can teach them how to love books.
I wonder to what degree we can grow readers by focusing on the behaviors, routines, habits, beliefs, and commitments of readers. I am doing some mini-lessons in my classes about some of these habits and commitments, but I’m not sure how much my dormant readers (to borrow Donalyn Miller’s lovely phrase) are really getting from these lessons. I’ll be asking them later in the semester.
I wonder to what degree anything besides the lavish application of wonderful books grows readers.