Turning It Inside Out: Independent Reading in the Middle School Classroom By Jacquelyn Messer
Introductory Paragraph: The beginning of every school year is invigorating. I love seeing my middle school students on the first day—taller, wiser, ready for another year down our hallway. My classroom is clean, prepped with stacks of new books, and I am prepared to knit together a beautiful tapestry of memories and good discussions about literature with my students. And yet, that excitement is popped like a balloon as one of the first questions that comes out of their mouths when I welcome them into my classroom is, “Do we have to read?” This question, while deflating to hear, is not an uncommon trend in our society today. Students no longer suffer only from illiteracy, the inability to read, but aliteracy, the ability to read but the lack of interest in doing so. This trend is a growing problem among young adults across our school systems (Merga & Moon, 2016). As a teacher, I dream of a classroom that is woven together with a love and appreciation for literature. I dream that my students will be voracious readers, snatching up the priceless literature that sits on my shelves. I dream of those deep, personal connections that my students will make to their own lives and cultures. And yet, those dreams do not often match reality. The nuances of middle school life are complicated, and the “perfectly woven” reading identities of my students are often a tangled mess. I frantically try to untangle that mess and make sense of it, knowing that my students’ interest in recreational reading will carry into their habits of reading as adults. I typically seek answers outside of my classroom, but this year I decided to turn my search inside out and look within. I decided to dig deeper in my own teaching to see how I could better implement practices of independent reading within my literacy instruction and evaluate how independent reading inside the classroom impacts and motivates my middle school students to read during their recreational time outside of the classroom walls.
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