I have been listening to the book Cooked by Michael Pollan, in which he states his challenge about chopping onions. Pollan laments that he was given a mandate to be absorbed in the moment when chopping onions and vegetables—rather than avoiding this foundational cooking task, as many of us do. Not to multi-task. Just to allow himself the satisfaction of engaging in a task and letting his mind delve into thought.
But you know—I hate chopping onions. I have a son-in-law who knows this about me, and so often offers to chop my onions for me. (I gotta admit, I love him for it!) It’s not that I hate onions. I love cooking onions. I love smelling and eating onions. But if I can find a way to avoid the eye-streaming-nose-running-results of chopping onions, I will.
It occurred to me this afternoon, while chopping onions, that my feelings about onions parallel the way some of my students feel about reading. You see, I was chopping away because I was following an onion soup recipe given to me by one of my students. He is a graduating senior, working as a cook in a local restaurant. He loves to cook and (I am sad to admit after all my years of teaching him how) he hates to read. So you see how the layers of my thoughts were peeling away to the core, much like the layers of the onions in my hands.
Here’s the thing: I had commanded myself to follow Pollan’s advice—“When chopping onions, just chop onions”—but I couldn’t bring myself to comply. Instead, I put on my blue tooth and listened to Pollan’s book while I chopped. Viola! With audio support, I actually enjoyed chopping the onions and garlic for my soup. Then, because I was enjoying listening, I continued chopping the ginger, asparagus and green onion for the next night’s stir fry.
You can probably imagine where I am going with this metaphor in relation to kids who don’t like reading. Reading for some children is as tedious and difficult as chopping onions! It can even lead to tears. But if we pair their reading time with more pleasant experiences, they might at least tolerate it. They may even enjoy it.
There are strategies to help kids endure the onions. One is the use of audio books. Letting kids listen allows them to independently read along at a level that would normally be out of their league.
In the end, we may not be able to convince them that decoding is fun, but they will discover a way to independently enrich their lives with books.