Anyone who spends 5 seconds in my classroom or my home knows how important reading is to me. I remember a time when my wife and I were moving and we had friends helping us to load the moving truck. One friend, who had somehow managed to carry nearly all of the boxes with books, commented, after the twentieth box, “Why do you have so many books? Don’t you know what a library is?” To which I quickly responded, “What do you think I keep in those twenty boxes?!”
My classroom is equally full of books. I read. A lot. There are books piled up by my nightstand, there is always at least one book in my bag, and I have dozens of books in my Amazon wish list that is constantly being updated, for both me and for my classroom. With all of the books I own (nearly 2,000), one may think that I never have time to read a book more than once. One would be wrong.
True, I have books that I have only read once. (I also have books I haven’t read. Yet.) But I also have many books that I have read several times. Some are childhood favourites, like the entire five-book Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I’ve read that series at least a dozen times in the past 23 years since I first read it in fourth grade. Others are picture books I’ve found recently and read again and again with students, nephews, nieces, friends’ children, and just for myself. There are also professional books that I return to again and again to remind myself of the reasons I do the things I do and to keep myself focused on what’s important.
Just as I read some selections repeatedly, I often expect my students to do the same. Too often, they read a book or a story or a selection once and then think they are “done.” (That word, incidentally, is a “bad” word in my classroom. We are “finished for now” or “ready for something else” but we are never “done.”)
Today was the first time we tried this idea of repeated readings. The students silently read Allen Say’s masterful story, Grandfather’s Journey, yesterday in small groups as an adult read it aloud. (I had a student teacher and a university tutor in my classroom at the same time, which made it really easy to divide up into groups!) Today they read it again, still in groups, but this time without an adult reading to them. As they read, they were given a question to consider to focus their reading. Tomorrow they will read it again, still in groups, with a different question to consider.
There are several reasons I encourage repeated readings. First, it helps develop fluency. Second, reading with different purposes allows students to see how they can use the same text to support different claims. Third, repeated readings improve comprehension. Yes, some students may feel that they already know the story because they have read it once and therefore feel they shouldn’t have to read again. They are missing the point. Reading is not about getting to the end of the story. Reading is about reading. It is about the story and how the reader interacts with it. To use an oft-used adage, reading is a journey.
And the journey is everything.