Pinterest Isn't Pedagogy

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by Donalyn Miller

The summer before my second year of teaching, I spent four hours outside my classroom door, building a three-dimensional butcher paper tree for a “Fall Into A Good Book” display. I burned my fingers with the glue gun multiple times and developed back pain from crouching so long. I wanted to quit the job, but I couldn’t leave it half done, so I persevered.

I spent an additional six hours looking up books on Goodreads, compiling a list of recommendations, and printing book jackets to hang on the display. I thought the tree looked bright and inviting. I couldn’t wait for my new students to see all the wonderful books I recommended and kick off a year of reading in my class.

On Meet the Teacher Night, some families noticed my book tree and complimented me. On the first day of school, a few students looked at my tree as they walked into class. By the end of the first week, my book display became hallway wallpaper until I took it down. Invisible. Reflecting on my efforts, I wondered how many students selected a book to read because of that tree. Probably not enough in proportion to the work I invested in making it.

That tree showed off my book knowledge and creativity, but how did it benefit my students? Whose reading preferences and recommendations were valued? Whose book evaluation and critique skills improved? Did my tree increase students’ learning and reading engagement? If not, why did I invest so much time into it?

Pressure to create cute classrooms and library displays worthy of Pinterest boards sets unreasonable expectations for teachers and librarians and diverts resources from developing meaningful teaching practices. Pinterest is not pedagogy. I believe librarians and teachers work hard to engage students with reading. We want our students to enjoy reading more. Although our influence matters, we must be mindful that we cannot remain our students’ sole source of book recommendations forever. Our students must learn how to evaluate and promote books on their own.

We are more likely to successfully encourage our students to read if we allocate our limited time to the activities that foster long-term professional growth and long-term learning for our students. Devote a few hours a week toward reading children’s and young adult literature. Pass these books into students’ hands and encourage them to share. Model and teach students how to give a book talk, write about what they read, create book trailers or podcasts. I guarantee you will foster higher reading engagement and competence in your students. No Harry Potter room theme or paper tree can.

Over the years, my students showed me what really engages them with reading. Frequent opportunities to preview, share, and talk about books; access to diverse reading materials; encouragement to choose their own books – these research-proven principles foster students’ reading motivation and interest. If we want reading to belong to our students, their voices should be louder than ours. Book recommendation prowess and decoration skills don’t matter if our students aren’t empowered to expand and share their own reading experiences. An engaged reader – engrossed in a book – makes for a boring photo, I suppose, but it’s the only legacy worth capturing.

Donalyn Miller taught 4th, 5th, and 6th grades in Northeast Texas and is the author of two books about engaging children with reading, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn is the co-founder of the community blog, The Nerdy Book Club, and co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk.

Created on Oct 9, 2015 | Last updated October 12, 2015