A pleasure reading program seeks to develop the love of reading.
Isn’t this the most important mission we educators share? We want our students to be lifelong readers. However, teaching students how to read is not the same as teaching them to love reading.
Whole class reading may be better suited to teach kids how to read, whereas self-selected pleasure reading exposes students to the kind of reading experiences that make them want more.
It might appear on first glance that both goals could be accomplished by teaching interesting whole class novels, but unfortunately there is no single text that will excite every reader. For example, when I present a short article on Machu Picchu for everyone to read, I am trying to instill in my students a sense of wonder and awe. Some students are impressed, but if I am honest with myself, many students are far more impressed with their Twitter feed. I try to make that whole class text activity short and sweet so that the reading experience is not terrible for those students not interested in Machu Picchu, but I know that the text will only excite some of my students.
For the rest of the students I am trying to teach a few skills: strong readers can tolerate a few paragraphs that are not perfectly suited to their interests in order to understand the intent of the author; strong readers can read nonfiction texts for information and use that information to construct their own arguments. While these are important skills for our students, this is the “cod liver oil” of reading … not too tasty.
Pushing students to read hard texts is not an effective way to lead them to love reading.
Most students who develop strong reading skills do so through copious pleasure reading. If they are indeed reading a lot, they only need a fine-tuning of their skills through explicit skill building.
This is what Stephen Krashen calls “the path of pleasure.” We do not have to force hours upon hours of difficult texts on students in order to teach the skill that strong readers sometimes tolerate a difficult text. Skills can be taught through short whole class texts.
Read up on building a perfect reading program in the Reading Program module.
The goal of pleasure reading is to connect students with pleasurable reading.
Students may happen to enjoy reading about Machu Picchu in a pleasure reading context, but they are not forced to read about Machu Picchu, nor are they quizzed on the reading afterwards.
In order to develop a love of reading in our students, do not risk mixing pleasure reading with the difficult texts that stretch their abilities. Reserve your library of interesting novels for pleasure reading and use the short Write & Discuss texts that you create everyday with your classes to stretch their reading skills. Give time every day for students to read self-selected novels for pleasure. Easy reading will develop a love of reading. I maintain a list of easy language learning novels that is available to the public.
When we prime students to enjoy their reading and then slip a little cod liver oil into the process, we ruin the taste of reading altogether. On the other hand, if we save our language learning novels for pleasure reading only and teach reading skills through short whole class texts, students will strongly associate novels with pleasure. It is a small adjustment to help lead non-readers over the bridge into the reading life.
If your district requires that you teach certain reading standards in your classes, address them through short whole class texts. But also cultivate the path of pleasure. Allow students to gaze at your classroom library during whole class instruction and fantasize about escaping into a novel.
That alone is a good reason to not teach a whole class novel.