Establishing a Reading Culture: Commitment

Commitment—without it, none of the other components we have discussed in these series mean a thing. Last summer, Lizzy and I read The Book Whisper and Reading in the Wild together—and we committed to creating and maintaining a Reading Culture in our classroom. That commitment manifested in our planning time together, the lessons we created, the vocabulary we used. That commitment included the willingness to encourage one another and steer each other back on point if one of us ever doubted our direction or strayed from our course of action.

We committed to growing readers and nurturing the love of reading in every child. All of our instructional decisions flowed from that overarching commitment. I had watched my own two daughters, both voracious readers until the assigned novels of middle school, stop reading for the joy of it.  They also infused nonsense and jokes into their reading logs over the years, as they knew the logs were so meaningless that even the teacher wasn’t reading them carefully. As a parent, I didn’t put the pieces of all of this together until this past year when I finally understood the significant impact of student choice on reading. There was no way to un-know the research once we’d read it, and no way I would risk others’ children’s relationships with books—we were most definitely on a mission.

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The two little darlings who used to be avid readers. Look at them now….

We committed to Authentic and Relentless Enthusiasm, Access, Accountability, and Community, which you already know if you’ve read this series. Each one of those is necessary for the others to work.  The two most debated aspects of what Lizzy and I did this past year are independent reading and rigor, so I will use this time to focus on our commitment and how it relates to those two areas.

  • Independent Reading was the cornerstone of our everything. We stood by it, promoted it, reveled in it, and never, ever cut it. It was our non-negotiable, come hell or high water, going to happen on the daily. It was a judgment free zone of basking in books and all the glory they have to offer. However, we DID THE RESEARCH behind it and could explain it confidently to anyone who asked or doubted its effectiveness. Ultimately, our results spoke for themselves.
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That time we shared our mission with a friend, and then we got this       surprise delivery!
  • Lexiles be damned, we let kids read what they wanted to read. We also chose class novels based on genre, theme, and interest. The only time Lizzy and I talked Lexile was during the creation of Lit Circles, when we would include one high Lexile offering in the mix of choices—and gently encourage that selection to targeted students. Ask any one of our students if they were challenged in our class—if they struggled—and you will get a firm yes. We infused rigor in our class by having consistently high expectations regarding work product, believing that our students (all of them) were capable of meeting our expectations, and providing learning opportunities that demonstrated both. Differentiation is more than tiered activities and modified processes—it’s a mindset…a culture of its own. Without rigor, there is only the flat-lined experience of attending class—there is no struggle that precedes the glorious victory of learning.
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Teaching genre via picture books. Our Genre Unit was our kick-off and set a foundation aligned with our direction.

I remember learning years ago a quote that was something like, “Anything less than 100% commitment has a back door, an escape hatch—so if you are anything less than 100%, you are not committed.”  It explains why we are so good at explaining it away when we fall short at our goals—if we are honest, we often have an at-the-ready excuse in the back of our minds. Lizzy and I were fortunate because we had each other, but make no mistake—she and I are quite similar and can readily justify one another’s excuses for falling short. 

On Establishing a Reading Culture, we BOTH committed—and you could FEEL the difference. From the beginning, there was no back door—we were all in for the long haul. With this in mind, commit only to what you are truly 100% ready to implement in your classroom—however small of an initiative it may seem. Take a baby step. But give yourself the thrill of feeling the exhilaration that comes with real commitment and the satisfaction that accompanies the results.

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And in our spare time, we are committed to social justice…and humanity, in general.

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