Friday, August 23, 2013

Please, Just Read the Book

"Please.  Just read the book."

Many years ago, I was sitting in a cafeteria of an elementary school in July.  I was attending a 3 day summer training with Frank Serafini.  (You can find Mr. Serafini's work at  As he was discussing his nonfiction books for children, he said something I will remember always.

"Please.  Just read the book." 

 Please, he implored, don't force the comprehension strategies on the students.  He asked that we please not make the kids stop and predict and ask questions and visualize and make inferences in the beginning.  "Just read it to them.  Just enjoy it," he said.

Yes.  Thank you.  After years and years and years of hearing that we should be finding books for the sole purpose of only teaching strategies and skills, this was like a breath of fresh air.  

I was a literacy coach at the time, and wasn't able to apply this philosophy in my own classroom.  Yet.  The strategies had just become popular years before.  You know, those comprehension strategies that are so popular:

Good readers:
Ask Questions
Make Inferences
And so on

And so, a few years later, I returned to the classroom.  Elated to be there.

We approached the books we loved without stopping to make a prediction teaching chart on the first read.  We didn't use every book for visualizing and inferring.  

When we read books for the first time, we simply enjoyed them.  We listened to the dialogue.  We dicussed the beauty of the phrases that stood out to us.  We marveled at the art.  (We did not even take a picture walk!  Gasp!)  

When we read them for a second time, we had conversations about things like, the interior monologue of the characters.  We discussed how we can know what characters are thinking by the clues the author gives us. We marveled again at the lines of text that were impactful to us.

When we read Lemony Snicket's The Dark last year in second grade, we did not stop and predict and infer and visualize.  We did our second reading in the actual dark. (At their request, of course.)  We realized after the 3rd read that the Dark is actually just personified in this text.  We realized that Jon Klassen brilliantly placed certain objects in the art to help us predict that the drawers in the basement would be important.  

Would the students have come to those conclusions on their own had I stopped and made a predicting teaching chart on the first read?  Would the kids have realized on their own that the Dark was personified if I had stopped and made a teaching chart about it on read #2?


I still "teach" reading.  I still help students understand how keeping their brains active and monitoring their own comprehension is important.  They learn how to infer and synthesize and predict and monitor and clarify.


I love picking up books and knowing that they are so much more than for teaching a strategy or a skill.

I want my students to hear and to love the language of the texts.
I want my students to adore the art and understand its importance in meaning-making.
I want my students to connect their reading with their writing so they can truly write "under the influence" of other writers.

It is wonderful to hear my students talk about books and characters and writers.  They can use what they know about comprehension inside their love of books, instead of the other way around.

Because first, we really do just "read the book."

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