(Note to Readers: Before you dive in here, we need to get something straight. A visit to the principal’s office is, in and of itself, not always a bad thing, a punishment, a consequence or wherever your head might go! Stop snickering. It may have in fact been just that when you went to school. It likely still is in lots of schools all around us. But here at CSD, as always, we try to be just a little bit different. Joy and I are both very different personalities but our goal is in building strong and authentic relationships with students for it is within those relationships that we extend learning. Still have the jitters? Read What’s the Point of a Professor? (or, as we like to call it: “What’s the Point of a Principal?” ) from this past Sunday’s (5/10/15) New York Times.)
Lately Fridays at 9:00 a.m. have become my favorite time of the week. For the last few months, I’ve had a standing meeting with a high school student. Together, he and I have rediscovered the joys of a shared read. It’s that social aspect of reading that we all too often forget to emphasize as our kids get older and those picture perfect days of sharing a picture book or a beginning reader fade to a distant memory.
Each week, we choose a magazine and pour through its pages together. We look at the photographs and search the text for more details. We laugh at the cartoons that the editors sprinkle throughout and the riddles that populate the end pages. We’ve learned about the Civil War, about mountain hiking safety, fishing, hippos, and tropical fish. More often than not, our meeting runs overtime because we find ourselves noticing things in the office related to the stories we’ve read and telling our own stories that the weekly run through the magazine sparks. And if I were to let him know our meetings are about reading, I’m pretty confident he’d stop showing up.
I get it. I know that few high schoolers think of reading for its social leverage. And yet, when we give students the opportunity to create a shared experience with a book many embrace it without hesitation. I’ve watched first year students beg Susan Ban to do just one more day of table readings for Romeo and Juliet. Upperclass students are beginning to drop by to use my bookshelf as a lending library that provides a foundation for conversations about current events. Our high schoolers fully embraced Poem in Your Pocket day, many reciting poetry in class and on stage during our final Open Mic event of the school year.
It’s that time of year when just as everything is winding down around us, a high school administrator’s thoughts turn to organizing communication around summer assignments. The teachers know it’s coming, the kids know it’s coming, and you parents know it’s coming. Reading is central to many of those assignments, and too often we make the mistake of allowing it to be cast as an obligation students (and parents) must make time to meet.
This year, I’d like offer a new spin and as I sit writing this piece on Mother’s Day I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due. As a child I had the privilege of spending time with my very vital great-grandmother Honey, who lived until I was a freshman in college. She gifted me and my cousins each with a book–for every holiday, for every birthday, for every visit. She was a voracious reader herself. Far more important, she made space for us to read during our visits and read with us. Sometimes that meant reading together, sometimes (particularly as we got older) it meant each of us (including Honey) reading in the same space–her front porch, the parlor, the backyard swing. Whenever we were together she made a point of asking us about our reading, and she often started these conversations by reading aloud from whatever she had in her lap and talking about whatever stuck a chord for her. She drew us all in every time.
So, as you look ahead to summer with your high schooler, think about reading as a conversation. Consider taking a look at the list of choices your student receives and co-reading one of the selections. You don’t have to schedule a book talk, just find those places to drop a word or two about your impressions. The book suggestions our teachers make are rich with new writers and old standards that play differently when you read them in middle-age. If you’re roadtripping there are awesome options for listening as you drive together to classics like The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time, The Narnia Chronicles. All are brilliantly performed and by shifting the task to a third-party reader, you can take a little off the edge of suggesting for one minute that your teenager read aloud with you. Share a magazine known for great writing with your student–Sports Illustrated, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, the Atlantic. Who knows? You might earn yourself an extended conversation with your teenager (at least as compared to the standard evasions), and you’ll be offering that window into reading as social engagement that helps grow and sustain life-long readers.
Happy Reading, Happy Summer!
j & c