A few weeks ago a colleague approached me about doing an independent reading project with all of our seniors. We often hear from alumni that they're overwhelmed by the increase in the amount of reading they need to do, so the overall goal was to help our students ramp up their reading (in terms of both speed and comprehension) before heading to college. But I grabbed at the opportunity to sneak in a few of my goals around promoting reading as well.
I believe that helping students develop a love of reading is one of the most important things I can do--and the one that will have the greatest impact on students over the course of their lives. Lifelong readers and lifelong learners. And there's more and more research pointing to the idea that reading helps people be more empathetic--and the ability to look at an issue from different points of view is, I believe, another vital skill for all people.
I see a lot of my students struggle with picking out something they want to read "for fun." The idea of "pleasure reading" is, for many of them, an oxymoron. So I wanted to focus on both why reading is something people choose to do even when it's not assigned, and on how to pick out something that will be enjoyable to read.
For the first part, I turned to Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail in order to gather responses to the question "why do you read?" Reading those responses was pretty much the best thing ever (I'm still getting replies, and will hopefully have a chance to update my presentation at some point). The responses were better than I could have hoped for in the breadth of perspectives they offered. I organized the presentation based on major themes that emerged in the responses, and then focused specifically on responses from faculty and staff at my school.
After spending some time talking about why to read, we segued into picking out what to read. I love the "speed dating with books" projects I'd seen other librarians do, and wanted to build on that idea. But given how I've seen many of my students try to pick out books before (grab first book they see, quickly flip through it, ask to check it out), I wanted to avoid time pressure. So I did more of a "mixer." Students still had speed dating-type scorecards to keep notes on the books, but were free to move from book to book and table to table at their own pace.
And let me tell you--it was awesome. Using the dating analogy gave us plenty of jokes and terrible puns to use as we talked about the books, which also took the pressure off. We talked about knowing what your "type" is--do you like blondes, brunettes, or mysteries? I encouraged students to look at a books they thought they wouldn't like, telling them it's good to know what doesn't work for you in a reading relationship, too. I offered to play matchmaker for students who were having trouble finding a book they connected with. I emphasized that they did not need to worry about hurting a book's feelings if they rejected it. And when I checked a book out to a student, I told them, "I hope you two will be happy together."
I love doing reader's advisory (and wish I was better at it) and I love when a student comes in to talk about what they're reading, or thank me for picking out a good book for them. What I love most about this project is that instead of students coming in and saying "I love the book you picked out for me" they're saying "I love the book I picked out."