What Does it Mean to Create Readers?

“When I think of reading I think of pleasure, favorite authors, beloved books, libraries, bookstores, stories, and relaxation.  I think of finding solace, of being suspended within the unique world a talented author has created.  I think of language beautifully crafted and books so mesmerizing that afterward, I want to tell other readers, “You’ve got to read this book.”  I do not think of levels, programs, groupings, or tests.  Those are school things that ultimately do not determine who becomes a reader.” ~ Regie Routman, Literacy Essentials

As I read Regie’s words, I was invigorated and passionately agreed with what it means to be a reader.  It’s the type of reader I want my son to be and all kids to be.

However, as I read through Regie’s tips on how to create readers (see below), I began reflecting on myself as a K-12 literacy coach.  I wondered, despite my beliefs being aligned with Regie’s in how to create life-long readers, do I, as a literacy coach, not balance my discussions with standards, strategies, and the workshop structure with other things such as teachers sharing their reading lives, daily read alouds, and getting kids engaged in text?

My initial thought was, “The questions I get from teachers typically are centered around the steps of the mini-lesson, how to group kids or wanting clarity on a standard and less about how to engage students in life-long reading.”  While these questions are important, one thing I could do is be the one who brings up the discussions around engaged-life long readers more than what I do.   I need to balance teacher needs/questions with pushing their thinking about what Regie says the end goal of teaching reading is: students who choose to read for pleasure and information and to expand our worldview. Based on the tips proposed in the section Regie entitled “Excellence 5: Teaching Readers,” below are some questions literacy leaders can use to guide teachers in creating readers.

  1.  How do you share your reading life with your students?
  2. Who can you invite into your classroom to share their reading life with your kids?
  3. Reflect on yourself as a reader? Are you a non-reader and do you believe it’s too late for you? (Research says it’s not too late).
  4. Is a daily read aloud a ritual in your classroom?
  5. Do you stop too much to model thinking in your read aloud (to the point where enjoyment in the text is lost)?
  6. Do you utilize engaging picture books (yes, even for middle school and high school teachers)?
  7. Do you encourage your students to study the craft of the author in their independent reading books?
  8. Is independent reading a non-negotiable in your classroom every day?
  9. Do students have access to a wide range of interesting and readable text in your classroom?
  10. Do you tap into the knowledge of experts in creating life-long readers (Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesesne, Franki Sibberson, Nancie Atwell, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Laura Robb, Cris Tovani and Pernille Ripp)?
  11. Do you know what books your students prefer?
  12. Do you limit extrinsic rewards?
  13. Do you balance fiction and non-fiction?
  14. Do you have a personal preference for fiction and does that lead you to not using as much non-fiction?
  15. Do you confer with students on appropriately pushing their text complexity?
  16. Do you over-emphasize the teaching of standards at the expense of teaching the reader?

And, finally, here are some questions for literacy leaders who want to balance “school things” with the ultimate goal of creating life-long readers. (Note, these are questions I came up with to check and challenge myself on the topic).

  1. Do I balance my discussions topics with teachers (addressing school topics and life-long reading topics?)
  2. As a K-12 system, do we agree on the ultimate goal of teaching reading?
  3. How do I embed some of the 16 questions above in formal professional development settings?
  4. Is it reasonable to commit to bringing up at least one of these discussions with a teacher or group of teachers on a weekly basis?
  5. What challenges exist in our K-12 system that may hinder our end goal of creating life-long readers?
  6. Do my movers and shakers (teacher leaders) buy into and promote creating life-long readers?

For me, this all comes down to my belief about reading: Reading changes lives, makes us better people, and allows us to navigate life more effectively.  I want this for our kids, not just during their school years, but beyond their time in a K-12 system.  We have to think about what our kids need beyond our tests, our programs, our benchmarks and our interventions. All of that matters, but if we have not made a concerted effort to create life-long readers when they leave our system, perhaps we have failed in our ultimate goal.

This post is part of a book study around Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018). Check out more resources associated with the text at this website (https://sites.stenhouse.com/literacyessentials/), including a free curriculum for teaching an undergraduate course using Literacy Essentials.

Author: Annie Palmer

Wife. Mother. Learner. Coach. Becoming better today than I was yesterday and better tomorrow than I am today.

10 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to Create Readers?”

  1. Wow, Annie! As I read your exceptionally thoughtful post, I was impressed with how reflective you are as an educator and literacy coach. GREAT guiding questions for creating readers and for self-evaluating our own reading practices! Those reflective questions are a gift to all of us who continue to seek to be more reflective and effective in teaching and inspiring readers–in spite of all the constraints and requirements we face. With admiration, Regie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank YOU for what you add to the area of literacy! I strive to always be reflective as our growth is never done! And, kids deserve our constant reflections on our practice! Thanks for causing that reflection in me and others!

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  2. Annie, I applaud you for coming up with a list of questions to ask yourself. I think your questions are valuable and thought provoking. So, in actuality, you’ve offered a great list to other literacy leaders as well. 🙂

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  3. Thanks so much for that post, Annie. As someone who also works with teachers, I really appreciated not only you putting that thought to the forefront but really thinking through the questions that could get teachers thinking and talking about their own reading lives. I’m not sure many teachers take into account their own “reading bias” and how that impacts the way they teach (I myself have to constantly remind myself that fiction is not the only genre out there!!). This is a great way to bring that to the forefront. Thanks for getting me started, now I can add to that list with my own thoughts and ideas. This also seems like a great way to start the year by focusing on our own reading communities and how we can use what works for us, as adults, before we begin building them in the classroom. Lots to think about!

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    1. I love that you said you were going to take my list and add your own thoughts and ideas. Building on the ideas of others is so powerful! I’d love to hear your thoughts/ideas/questions as you think through it. The more I’ve learned about literacy, the more I’ve realized how much I was influenced by either the way I was taught or my bias. This impacted me particularly in my first several years of teaching (only 15 years ago!) I think the earlier we can recognize that bias, the more we open up our own reading lives and the reading lives of others! Thanks for all you do in leading teachers! It is a noble cause! 🙂

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  4. Your post is timely, as we are grappling with this very thing right now in our district. How do we embrace the responsibility of leading literacy instruction while maintaining an authentic pathway to “readership?” When I was teaching 7th grade, I could embrace Atwell’s practices in allowing students to self-select any book, as I wasn’t as concerned with decoding and fluency. However, as an instructional coach in K-5 classrooms, the decisions are not that easy. Parents want to know where their children stand; whether that’s a result of standards and testing, or just the mindset of our education system, we feel obligated to assess maintain leveled texts. When I think about the schools in Finland, where reading isn’t explicitly taught until 2nd grade, or in Walden schools, where the same is true, it gives me pause to think, and to reflect upon those other ways. Today my supervisor, reading specialist, and I were discussing a professional learning series for our kindergarten teachers for next year. Leaning on Routman’s philosophy, we know we (teachers, support staff, and administrators) need to begin by examining our beliefs. Hopefully, we can be honest with ourselves and take this opportunity to examine our practices in order to launch our youngest readers on that path to “readership.”

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