I am ready to hang a banner in our classroom to loudly display the following words, “Being a slow reader does not make you a bad reader!” and then point to it every time a child tells me with a downward glance that they are slow readers. The shame of the designation oozing from them.
Since when did taking your time as you read become something to be ashamed of?
And yet, they continue to tell me they are slow as they share their true reading lives. They tell me that being a slow reader means they hate reading, that they cannot find any books, that there is no way they will ever read enough books in 7th grade and that there is nothing to be done about it. They have given up because of speed. They have given up because of everything they have attached to the word “slow.”
And with our emphasis on getting things done, including books, in our schools I cannot blame them.
So I tell them instead that they are not “slow,” they are simply taking their time. That yes, increasing reading speed can become a goal for them but that it should not be the only goal. That I understand that when you read at a slower pace (notice the difference in word choice) that you sometimes lose meaning so we need to find a pace that works for them. Because you see, being a fast reader does not make you a great reader. In fact, I struggle publicly with my own fast reading and have as one of my goals that I need to slow down.
Yet, they do not believe me. Not yet anyway. And how can they? When the standardized tests they take to measure their worth as readers are timed? When the countdown clock appears urging them to hurry up and answer or else it will count against them? When I give them all a book challenge of reading 25 books or more and they automatically feel that is a mountain they cannot conquer? When they see their friends whizzing through books and cannot help but compare themselves?
We create environments where fast = good and slow = bad.
So as Thomas Newkirk says, “There is no ideal speed in reading.” Instead it depends on the purpose, the time, the book they are reading. And that is what we should be teaching toward. That students need to find a reading pace that works for them and then make sure that the reading environment we create supports that. We have to remove the stigma of the word “slow.” We have to help our students find success as readers, to redefine their own reading identity so that that very identity does not become a stranglehold or the reason they give up before they even begin.
So we hand them books they can conquer successfully to build up the confidence they lack. And I don’t mean books designated by levels, but books that they want to read based on interest. We hand them graphic novels. We hand them page turners where they will want to read on. And then we hand them time. We remove the “get it done” pace that seems to surround us as we teach. And every time they say they are slow readers and mean it as a bad thing, we tell them they are mistaken. We change the very language we use so that they can find a new way to identify themselves. So that they can feel proud of the time they take when they read, rather than see it as yet another deficit.
We decide what being a slow reader means. That change comes from us. Our job is to make sure students know it.
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!