A Culture of Reading

I had a great conversation last night on Twitter about “silent reading” time. Some teachers feel it is a waste of time… that kids are more likely to become discipline problems during this time… that they’re not really reading… or that they’re not comprehending what they’re reading.

I disagreed. And now, as I think about it, I can disagree because our school values and intentionally cultivates a culture of reading. This culture provides time, choice, modeling, reading aloud (for all our classes, not only our “littles”), discussion with peers, options in how/what/why they read, but most importantly that reading books is something we ENJOY. Books are gifts. Books are treasures.

Some of the things we don’t do: reading logs, forced leveled readers, reading tracking programs, prescriptive reading lists, required reports/discussion/book conferences for every book a child reads, etc.. (Basically anything that takes away choice from kids.)

In my opinion – and 20+ years of teaching experience – those things kill the joy of reading. Those things tell kids, “Hey. I don’t trust that you’ll actually read this book unless I force you to complete something that proves you read it.” Those things don’t honor a student’s choice in what she wants to read. Those things tell kids that their reading is only valuable if they can talk to a teacher about what they just read. 

THOSE THINGS ARE ABOUT THE ADULTS IN THE CLASSROOM… NOT THE KIDS. If we control their reading, they are not going to want to read.

In my classroom… Do we sometimes read a book together as a class and then discuss? Of course. Do we sometimes read books and then talk with a partner or small group about what we just read? Yes! Do we have book conferences? “Speed booking?” (like speed dating, but with books!) Do we discuss reading strategies, elements of a story, reading for entertainment, reading for information… YES. ALL THE READING THINGS!


But to me, it is vital that kids ALSO have time provided for them to simply read freely – with no expectations of the how/what/why.

One of my favorite days of our school year is called StoryLine. All the students share the work they’ve created throughout the school year and show their learning progress. Most of the kids like to include books they’ve read in this “display,” and when I visit other classrooms, I love to ask them why they selected the particular books in their display. I don’t hear, “Mrs. X said I had to include this book” or “Well, we had to read this as a class” or “I talked about this book in a book conference with my teacher.”

These kids say, “These are my three favorite books I read this year!” and “I read this book, and I really identified with what was happening with the characters in this book!” and “I had a really hard time picking favorites, because there were so many great books I read this year!”

As I was thinking about how to write this post, I found another post by my friend Pernille Ripp – and you should definitely read it. https://pernillesripp.com/2017/06/09/does-reading-for-pleasure-in-schools-really-make-a-difference/

Pernille is an extremely valuable resource for any educator, but she is also on of my list of “go to” teachers for anything having to do with reading and books.

So I wrote THIS post, because the “waste of time” comments regarding silent reading really struck a nerve within me. And I think the biggest takeaway for me after doing some processing and reflecting upon my own practice and reading habits is this:

If silent reading is a waste of time in your school, maybe it’s a CULTURE problem, not a KID or READING problem. And I would offer the following questions as thinking points – just something to consider:

  1. Do your students have choice in the types of books they read?
  2. Do students in your school have access to multiple genres? e-Books? Graphic novels? Comic books? Poetry? Picture books?
  3. If a student starts a book and doesn’t like it, does he have the option to try something else?
  4. How do the adults in your building model their own reading? Do the students SEE you reading?
  5. Most importantly… have you asked the KIDS how they could make silent reading a more enjoyable time?


When you see statistics like these gathered from Pew in 2015, as educators, we should be doing everything we can to help foster a love for reading. I’ve been a lover of books from a very early age, but I was happiest when I had choice, options, and access to what *I* wanted to read. When teachers gave our classes silent reading time with choice, I was a happy camper… AND that freedom made me much more likely to want to read the books they wanted me to read, too.

Books are gifts. Books are treasures. If your students don’t feel this way, this says more about the culture of reading in their environment than it says about them.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post.

We Don’t Need Badges for Reading


(c) 2016 Michelle K. Baldwin (all rights reserved)

My students love to read… and I don’t exaggerate when I say “love.” They adore books of all kinds, and they are excited for any time of the day that includes a book. This love for reading has come from a very carefully cultivated classroom environment where they have access and abundant choice in reading. (I can’t take all the credit, though. For many of them, that love of books is also nurtured greatly at home. My goal as their teacher is to help that love continue to grow.)

When I want them to do some research about the topics that interest them, I pull as many books as I can from our own little library and spread them across the tables in our classroom. We read picture books together. We read books with accompanying CDs and songs. There’s a great mix of non-fiction and fiction available to them. Reading is not a chore in this classroom – it’s a right that feels like a gift.

My emergent readers have access to the same books that my developing and fluent readers have. Sometimes they choose books that they cannot yet read (emphasis on “yet”), and sometimes they choose books that might be considered too easy. What I see is a continued love for books and continued progress in where they started when they first came to this classroom in the fall.

Earlier in the year, we were very excited to get an app on our iPads that brought us access to even more books. The kids could search for a keyword, and many titles showed up in the results. When we needed to do some investigating in our inquiry block and didn’t have enough books on each topic for individual research, this app helped fill a void. I was very pleased and often tweeted about how happy I was with this app*.

Then something changed. All of a sudden, my kids wanted to read on this app all the time. They were quietly chattering amongst themselves about how many books they had been reading, how much they read over the weekend… but something seemed “off” to me.

This past Monday, one of my little girls was in tears. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong until she was finally able to tell me that she didn’t get the Mother’s Day badge. I asked her what she was talking about, and the other kids showed me their badges page in the app. Sometimes, you get a badge just for reading on a special day. I explained to her that it was ok that she didn’t get a badge for reading on that day… and that the badges don’t matter at all to me. She told me that she had spent the day with her family and not on her iPad… and I explained to her that it was a better thing to be doing than reading for the purpose of getting a special badge.

On top of that exchange, I heard my students’ conversations change. Instead of being excited about what they had learned from reading, as had been the case before, now they were all talking about which badges they received.

I brought them all to the center of the room and asked them what was going on. I questioned, “Why are we reading books?” Some of them answered, “because we like reading and because we learn a lot.” But then the responses changed, too. They started to talk all about the badges- how they liked getting more badges and how important that is. One of them even mentioned how you can page through all of the books in the app to trick the app into thinking you’ve read the book… and then you get MORE BADGES.

They could tell from the look on my face how disappointed I was. There was a bit of silence for a while, and then one of the 7 year olds started to say, “Guys, I think we forgot about why we read. Badges aren’t important.” Not everyone agreed with him. My solution was to tell them that we will continue to use the app for research, but that’s it. If we’re reading just to get a badge, then we’re reading for all the wrong reasons. If the badge mania continues, we’re going to delete the app. 

Just like that… my students’ motivation to read – because they love reading and want to learn more – flipped like a switch. This is what happens every single time we apply extrinsic motivation to something we want to encourage. EVERY. TIME. I’ve taught long enough to see cycles of rewards for reading… or learning to play the recorder… or learning multiplication tables… whatever you want to add to the list. You might help a kid memorize something or change a behavior, but extrinsic rewards always fail on a long-term basis.

I’m not the only person to write about this…

Pernille Ripp has written extensively on reading motivation here, here, and here – These posts are very specific to reading logs, but make a similar point. (If you’re not reading her blog, please do. The posts on reading instruction alone will be well worth your time.)

Alfie Kohn wrote a great post (amongst many) about The Risk of Rewards… but most directly about this topic in A Closer Look at Reading Incentive Programs.

As I spoke with Kelly Tenkely this morning about this blog post I needed to write about reading incentives, she recommended a book called Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher. I haven’t yet read this book, but I can guarantee that badges (or pizza coupons) are not going to be the solution to what’s happening in reading instruction and motivating kids to read.

Larry Ferlazzo has an entire curated list dedicated to posts he and others have written about the failure of extrinsic rewards in education. Take the time to read these!

Honestly, I could have just posted links to the above posts and the book recommendation and not even written THIS post… however, there’s a story here. I saw firsthand what happened to my littles when they were incentivized with something other than reading itself. They already loved reading… but then their focus changed for the worse. I have some “badge damage” to undo with a few of my kids.

*I’m not blaming the makers of this particular app, and I’m not using this blog post to call them out publicly. They are providing what scores of other teachers (unfortunately) want.

Here’s what I want:

  1. Get rid of the badges. ENTIRELY.
  2. Create a graphic of a bookshelf within your app to show kids which books they’ve already read (I know there’s a scrollable section where they can see what they’ve read, but the virtual bookshelf would make it easier to see the sum total.)
  4. Continue to provide great choices for the kids to read… because ultimately, that’s what will keep us reading.

If none of my suggestions are possible, then consider giving teachers the option to turn off the badges. We don’t need them, and I’m not putting my students in a situation where badges are an option anymore.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you made it all the way to the end, you can give yourself 10,000 make-believe points as a reward. *wink*