Making Joy a Reading Standard

Mary Anne Buckley - low res

by Guest Blogger Mary Anne Buckley, Literacy for All Conference  Featured Speaker

I was on an interview a few years ago and the final question was a wordy jumble of educational buzzwords and teacher-ese lingo that left me questioning if I actually knew anything at all about literacy instruction. So I asked the panel to repeat it and when they did I was able to tease out their real question… what did I consider to be an essential component of a literacy program? Without thinking I answered, “Joy” and thought that would wrap up the interview and the job. The bemused chuckles and blank stares made me realize I had some explaining to do.

I went on to describe how Read Alouds can promote fluency and reading rate, how Shared Reading can delve into word families and sentence structure, how Interactive Read Alouds can deepen prediction, inferring and comprehension strategies. I described how literacy workshops can reach all the benchmarks and standards of the Common Core, the DRA, the F&P, but without joy they won’t develop enthusiastic, independent, discerning readers.  It may, to quote G.M. Trevelyan,  “…[produce] a vast population able to read, but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.”

Today reading instruction in many classrooms has a narrow approach focused on checking off strategies and skills within specific book levels. These checklists then determine when a student can move forward in their reading and even what books they are allowed to read!  Teachers may mean well in following these programs but the formulas, the checklists, the assessments overtake their judgment and they lose sight of the bigger picture. When we put those directives aside for just a moment and focus on our students we discover something new. We see Carlos choosing books from several different levels and genres.  We ask why Anna loves chapter books as she organizes her post it notes and we listen to Ben and Simeon question each other as they read Open Wide: Tooth School Inside we find the purpose of our instruction. We find joy in reading and then we balance that with thoughtful, systematic, explicit instruction. This begins the development of readers who take risks, contemplate thoughtfully and question independently.

Joy is reading Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems. It is a delightful tale that brings our classroom community together in silly joy. And when we look deeper and explore the tenderness Leonardo feels when he chooses to hug Sam instead of “scar[img] the tuna salad out of him” an opportunity is created for students to share times when they have offered kindness to someone and how it changed the situation. Or when they accepted kindness from a peer and how it changed them. As readers we begin to look for compassion in other characters, to find connections of compassion across genres and discover compassion in real world news.

Another joy is holding March Reading Madness this past year. Eight books were placed in a bracket and every Thursday three classes gathered together to read and vote for a favorite.  As a group we examined the cover art and made predictions, we paused and discussed the problems and possible solutions, and we shared out favorite quotes by referring back to the text. After the ballots were cast one class would tally the votes and announce the winner for that week. The final pairing was held in the auditorium with great fanfare and popcorn!

One class extended the learning by writing persuasive paragraphs about their book choice; another made short video book reviews. Some children made their own brackets with books from their reading bags. They read with great enthusiasm to one another attempting to convince the other that the cunning ways of Jack and Annie were superior to that of Nate the Great.

When our class read A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams the children wondered why Rosa and her mother used all the money to buy a chair. After all a chair is a chair, right?  We read the book with a second grade class  and after many readings and discussions the students came to see how each one of them had a precious object that offered them safety and comfort. Together the students created posters of both the chair and their individual objects. The joy of the poster activity strengthened the students’ understanding of why we reread books, why we ask questions when we are confused, why we share ideas.

We read a slew of books about the power of words – Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rapport, Trouble Talk by Trudy Ludwig, Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna, Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter and spent time thinking about the words we use and how they affect people. Then we brainstormed words that we could use to help make our community and the world a more peaceful place. As readers we began to discover the thoughtful and purposeful word choices authors make when describing a character, a setting, a gesture. We discussed words that carried powerful peace within them and wanted to be a class that spread peace.  We hung our mural in the hallway and students and adults alike stopped to read and enjoy our joy.

Joy is in listening to and being moved by words and joy is in crafting words that move others. Joy is in recognizing ourselves in characters as well as challenging ourselves to see things from a different perspective. Joy is connecting and reflecting with one another.  I wrote that I answered the last question from the interview panel without thinking but in all actuality I’ve been thinking about that answer for years. When we remember our own personal joy of reading and infuse that into our instruction the lessons themselves become joyful.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is not found in finishing an activity but in doing it.

– Greg Anderson


Mary Anne is speaking at the Literacy for All Conference:

Monday, 10/24

1:30pm – 3:00 pm- Friendship Workshop: How to Integrate Social, Emotional and Literacy Learning (Grades K-2)

Tuesday 10/25

10:15am – 11:45am-  Friendship Workshop: How to Integrate Social, Emotional and Literacy Learning (Grades K-2) (repeat session)

1:00pm – 2:30pm- It’s Not Education If It’s Not Mindful (Grades PreK-2)

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