On Reading Identity – An Essential Question to Ask Our Students

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I have been watching my students carefully the last few weeks, waiting, holding my tongue, and just seeing what happens.  We have started every day with 10 minutes of independent reading, which yes, sometimes is so hard to give because I feel the pressure of what I have to cover bear down on me.  And yet, I know that giving my students independent reading time, particularly in the middle school, will make the biggest difference between whether they are readers or not.

So I have watched, and I have noticed the child that has already read 5 books on his device.  Absorbed, enthralled, and recommending books to me.  The child that is still re-reading the same old books that he has re-read the last few years, afraid to take a chance on something new.  There is the child that has asked me if she could please listen to the next book and will that count as reading?  (The answer is yes, of course).  And then there is the girl that has been sharing her truth with me in small casual comments; she hates reading, always has.  Reading was fun in kindergarten when she had to listen but that was it.  She says it likes it’s no big deal.  Like it is fact.  Reading is not for her and never will be.  So I tell her I will try to make reading better and she answers “That’s what they all say, Mrs Ripp.”

That’s what they all say.

Every teacher who has had her has told her the same thing; I will help, I will make it better, I will try.  And yet, she stands before me now confessing that reading makes no sense to her.  That even when she has pictures it makes no sense.  And it doesn’t matter how many strategies she tries, it’s too hard and she will just read whatever,just so she can get through it.  Because getting through reading is the only thing she knows how to do.  Even though she has support.  Even though she has teachers who care.  And So I ask more questions, trying to discover just who she is, and what her reading identity means to her.

So often, we feel the pressure to teach.  We feel that every time we speak to a student we must offer them up a kernel of truth, some inspiration, and a thing to try.  We do it so that reading can become better for them, so they can comprehend deeper, understand it more, and develop their skills.  Yet, in slowing down these past few weeks, I have learned yet another lesson when it comes to our readers;  We cannot teach them well if we do not know their reading identities.  And sure, that comes through speaking with them, but it also comes through quiet observation and casual conversations.

The students know what we want to hear.  They will not tell us their truths until they trust us. So I withhold my judgment, reel back my eagerness to fix, and I pay attention, and I listen.  Our students speak so loudly, yet we often forget to hear it.

So as they read or not read, depending on their choice, I sit next to them and ask quietly; “Are you a reader?”  They are often surprised at the question, yet how they answer it tell me so much.  I thank them and I move on.  I take notes on my reader profile sheet and I ponder what the next step should be.  How this year will help them and not hurt them.

We are not yet ready to talk strategies.  We are not yet ready to talk goals, other than finding great books.  We are not ready to analyze text, break it apart, or even compare.  Not as a class any way.  But we are ready to share our truths.  They are ready to declare whether reading is for them or not.  And I am ready to listen.  Are you?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) just came out!

2 thoughts on “On Reading Identity – An Essential Question to Ask Our Students

  1. LOVE. After 20 years of teaching (mostly middle school ELD, then some high school writing and then some middle school ELA) i have landed in a middle school reading intervention position, and I feel like I’m coming home to a place I’ve never been before, to quote John Denver. However, I also feel like a newbie teacher in many ways. I am so glad to hear that you also are getting to know your students as people and readers before moving into strategies and goals. And I am stealing your reader profile for use ASAP. Thank you.

  2. As an elementary teacher I cannot agree more with allowing silent reading time for students. This time not only develops reading discipline, but also allows the student to be exposed to a variety of reading stories that THEY may choose. My students learn so much from their books during this silent reading time that they are able to contribute to class discussions more and more!

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