Completed books lead to…?

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diorama3Remember book reports and posters and book talks and dioramas and all that stuff that we were assigned after having read a book for school? Some of that was fun, but much of it was assigned as a way to verify that we had in fact read a book. It was reading for a grade and little else. Hmmm.

Nobody ever does any of those Show-and-Tell’y kinds of things after we leave formal schooling, of course. After each poster or diorama was graded, we took it home to show the family and then it probably sat around the house gathering dust somewhere, like in our rooms or on the dining room table where we rarely ate. The cat might inspect it or our baby cousin might attempt to dismantle it to see what all the fuss was about, but after a day or two that was it. Out to the trash or the attic it went.

Now let’s consider responses to completing a book these days. What do grown readers do?

I think our adult reading is largely private. We may say 10 words to our spouses or to good friends about a book we finish, but that’s it. If we encounter someone who’s also read the book, then there will be a flurry of co-sharings of good parts or about admired traits or despicable behavior in the tale. If we finish a non-fiction book, we might turn to specific pages to share with a fellow enthusiast or in response to a casual inquiry. That could lead to a nice conversation about the book, but little else.

If I finish a fiction book, I usually just sit and reflect upon it. I’m usually sorry it’s over, already missing the people and places I had come to know so well, and not wanting to return back to my actual, not-particularly-interesting existence. I may ask a fellow fan of the author or of a character if they want the book once I finish it. I totally devoured it and now it could offer spiritual and mental nourishment to someone else. I’m finished. Onwards and upwards for me.

Upon reflection, my very, very most important and valuable response to having completed a book is that I very quickly turn to the thoughtful selection of my NEXT book. That event sends me off into a ravenous search for another book with which I can connect and into which I can delightfully launch myself.

(It’s important to note here: I’m a joyful and insatiable reader.)

As an educator, I worry constantly about children who can read, but who don’t read unless required to, and who won’t read once that last book-reporting event is graded. These kids are done with books.


If that’s the case, I am left to wonder what might we lead them to do instead of expending all that effort, wasting those reams of construction paper and squandering the hours they might put in after assigned books have been closed for good? What might we do instead of spending time grading such things?

My interest is in what would make the completion of one book a natural launch of a search for another.

Basically, how might we lead these apparently able readers to actually BE readers? Hmmm?






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4 Responses to “Completed books lead to…?”

  1. Catherine November 6, 2015 at 9:59 am #

    I like your critique of the traditional “prove you read it and understand it” approach to in-school book reading, though I think you touch upon two separate educational objectives: gaining knowledge from reading and becoming a life-long enthusiastic reader. The first objective; gaining knowledge, is linked to finishing a book and using the content to solve a problem or support an argument in some way. The second objective, enthusiastic reading, might be addressed by your own description of what happens when we complete a book we love: we search for a new book that extends the experience. Series books for all ages provide this extended experience (think Lemony Snicket, The Lightning Thief, or even old school series like Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys). Reluctant readers can be drawn in with in-classroom read-alouds that stop after the first book with directions to the library for the next in the series. I’ve seen this approach work in a small inner-city school, with tantalizing results 🙂

    • Mark Condon November 6, 2015 at 10:43 am #

      You make an excellent point, Catherine. I kind of jumped over the teacher’s objective all together. However I try to keep my blogs short and sweet and so I jumped right to my personal agenda, teaching children to BE readers. Thanks so much for holding up the educator’s end better than I did.

  2. B. P. Laster November 8, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

    Hi Mark.
    You raise an important issue in which schools sometimes get in the way of kids reading. When teaching K-12 (mostly middle and high school “remedial reading”), I had short, informal book talks with students whenever they finished reading a book.They had free choice of what to read. If more than one student was ready for a book talk on the same book, we had even more fun discussing key characters or plot twists. I wish I could affirm that this activity was truly analogous to adult Book Clubs, but I was the teacher so the power differential was present; still, I think that these students preferred to have informal conversations about what they read…instead of making dioramas.
    Best regards,

    • Mark Condon November 8, 2015 at 8:45 pm #

      Barb, I love it that you are focused on keeping reading personal. I’m not sure that it would even be a good idea to try and shape book-conversation like adult Book Clubs. These kids are still learning to express themselves and embrace their literary journeys and you’re giving them a lovely and safe place to become the readers they can be as they grow into their own adulthood. Good for you! … and thanks so much for sharing.