being a teacher, Literacy, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams

The Reading Rules We Would Never Follow as Adult Readers

Why is it all right to impose rules on children's reading lives that we would never follow as adults?


The number one thing all the students I have polled through the years want the most when it comes to reading.  No matter how I phrase the question, this answer in all of its versions is always at the top.  Sometimes pleading, sometimes demanding, sometimes just stated as a matter of fact; please let us choose the books we want to read.

Yet, how often is this a reality for the students we teach?  How often, in our eagerness to be great teachers, do we remove or disallow the very things students yearn for to have meaningful literacy experiences?  How many of the things we do to students would we never put up with ourselves?  In our quest to create lifelong readers, we seem to be missing some very basic truths about what makes a reader.  So what are the rules we would probably not always follow ourselves?

Removing choice.   I have to start with the most obvious; removing choice in reading (and even in writing).   We know that choice matters, we know as adult readers we revel in the sheer experience of being able to choose what we want to read.  We take it for granted and will even rebel in small ways when someone says we have to read something.  Choice is the cornerstone of our own literacy life, yet it is one of the first things we tend to remove for children, especially fragile or developing readers.  And I get it, we think we know better when students repeatedly choose wrong, yet, it is in the selection process that students can uncover who they are as readers, if we give them time to discuss, reflect, and yes, even try the things they choose that may not be a great fit.

Forced reflection.  We seem to be reflecting kids to death with our requirements to write a little bit about every book they read.  Or having them keep a reading journal or having them write about the signposts or whatever else they are finding when they independently read.  It is not that we shouldn’t have students reflect when they read, it is that we make these one-size-fits-all requirements where students cannot discover how they would like to digest their reading.  How often do we as adults write a paragraph every time we finish a book?  Or summarize it?  Or make a diorama, (which yes, I made my students do)?  While I know adults that would love to do all of those things, I also know many that would not.  In fact, many adult readers I know would slow down their reading or hide their reading if they had to do all of that “work.”  When I teach the signposts (from the excellent book Notice and NoteNotice and Note) I tell my students that they are not expected to find them when they are reading at home, but that they are meant to be able to find them when asked.  There is a big difference in the way they feel about the task because it is not something they have to do all of the time.

Forced tracking.  Oh reading logs, I am looking at you here.  Yes, as an adult I track my reading on my Goodreads account.  I even write reviews sometimes.  But I don’t track my pages (unless I have a bigger purpose in mind and then it is for short amount of time), or time how long I read for, or even have my husband sign for me.  I make time to read because I love reading.  And while we can say that reading logs foster more reading because it is a check up system, it also kills reading for many.  If you want to see if the kids are reading, have them read in class and pay attention to what they are reading.  Allow students to track in a way that is meaningful to them; Goodreads, notebook page, poster, pictures of books on their phone, or even through conversations.  There is no one system that fits all and if a system we have in place is even killing the love of reading for one child, then we need to rethink it.

Points and competition.  Yes, AR, you have it coming.  Plus all of the other initiatives that we put in place to urge students to read.  And I get it; we desperately want students to become readers and to keep reading, yet this short-term solution can actually have a long-term consequence; kids who do not read for reading’s sake but for the prizes or honors attached to it.  We know what the research says regarding motivation and reading and how it can actually have adverse effects, and yet, we continue to concoct programs to try to get them reading.  How many adults though would read more because we then could take a computerized test that would give us points?  How many adults would be okay with their reading lives on display for the world to see?  Some would, while others would hate for the world to know something that they see as a personal discovery.  Why do we assume that what might work for one child will work for all?

Limited abandonment.  As an adult reader I practice wild book abandonment, passing books on when I know they are not right for me, yet as teachers, we often have rules for when students are allowed to abandon a book.  I used to subscribe to the 50 page rule myself.  Why?  If a child wants to abandon a book, they are on their way to knowing themselves better as a reader.  This is something to celebrate, not something to limit.  If a child is a serial book abandoner, and yes, I have a few of those, then we should be asking them why, rather than just stopping them.  What did they not like about this book?  What do they need to look for instead?  Help them explore their reading identity so that they can develop it rather than have them mimic yours.

Inane bookshopping rules.  My students used to be allowed to bookshop on Fridays.  That was it.  Yet, as an adult reader I bookshop all of the time.  I am constantly on the prowl for the next great read and my to-be-read list is ever expanding.  I get that book shopping or browsing sometimes becomes an escape for a child when they do not want to read, but then we work with that one child, rather than impose limits for all.  My students know that book shopping can happen anytime during our independent reading time, or even if they have completed other tasks.  I would rather want children that want to look at books, than those who abhor it.

When my students started telling me their reading truths, I drove home in shame; how many of the very things they told me had killed their love of reading where things that I had done myself as a teacher?  How many of the things was I still doing?  Yet, within the words of my students, I found the biggest truth of all; different children need different reading experiences and so that means now is I try to create a passionate reading environment, where there is room and scaffold for all of my readers.  Not just those that can work in one system concocted by me.  I know that sometimes large things are out of our control, yet, there are so many small things that are.  Think of what made you a reader or what stopped you from becoming one and then use that reflection to shape the way reading is taught and practiced in your own learning environment.  Being a teacher means that we learn from our mistakes, I have made many, and it means that we continue to strive for better.  We cannot do that if we don’t listen to the students.  And you know what; don’t take my word for it; ask your own students.  Then listen. Then do something about it.

PS:  Today I pondered out loud on Twitter how many educators tell students to read at home or over the summer and never read themselves.  Being a reading role model should be a requirement for all teachers of reading, it makes a huge difference.

If you are wondering why there seems to be a common thread to so many of my posts as of late, it is because I am working on two separate literacy books.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The first book tentatively titled The Global Literacy Classroom is scheduled for release November, 2016 by Solution Tree.  The second, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

50 thoughts on “The Reading Rules We Would Never Follow as Adult Readers”

  1. Until our district deleted my AR account, I took tests and made sure to get as many points as the highest assigned requirement. (Usually, our teachers assign 10 points per nine weeks, which is very little.) I wish I HAD reading logs from my middle school years, but our teachers don’t assign them. I agree with most of your points, but I encourage students to book shop during their study halls rather than Sustained Silent Reading so that I don’t have 100 unexpected students needing service in the library.

  2. Reblogged this on dyslexiaruleslondon and commented:
    Yes (many times yes…)
    I am a huge proponent of critical reflection and teach this as a subject within all my subjects (to adults), but i have seen how we can turn children off their individual relationships with reading, creative thinking & play, dreaming (ahhh) and so on… why can’t they just find someone to talk to about it – if they want to? reading is a special, internal joy that, much like home-made jokes, tends to lose something in the telling, unless others are excited about the stories / ideas in them as much as we are, brimming over with the desire to share ‘the best bits’ and the howlers, the fun of it all, the intimacy of our thoughts and feelings nurtured or protected… choice is a fundamental issue in learning: if i am not excited by one book / play / topic / tv programme / film, then if there is not a promise of hidden treasure(s) or of the ‘next’ one being a potential corker, its hard to get and keep motivated, interested – but that’s me firing off the first thing i thought of in response to this clever and passionate post, not a rounded argument or the like, just someone with dyslexia and beyond who is a great, if uneven, reader with concentration issues 🙂

  3. I try to find a balance within reading when it comes to abandonment. The fact is, there are many times I am forced to read something, even if it is dey, boring and uninteresting. We talk a lot about reading for pleasure vs assigned r eating vs reading for your own personal development. I brought in my master’s math class text book and talked about how I dreaded reading it, but that I needed to in order to understand the class. So sometimes they can abandon books, but I also teach them to push through.

    Primary On The Prowl

  4. There is a ton of truth in what you write… always. What I think you do really, really well is you have conversations with your students about topics and get their opinions about their thoughts and their ideas and then share. Many times its just adults making ‘informed’ decisions for kids and never even bothering to ask kids what they want, or think they need whether it be for reading, for technology use, for writing, etc. You let kids discover they have a voice. You talk to kids and ask questions and LISTEN… and then have a candid conversation about your ideas, and then you write about it here. You are not afraid of ‘putting it out there’ even if it means getting varying levels of agreement or not. Well done. As far as your reading for choice…I too did those things and yes… I am ashamed. I do think sometimes exposure is a good thing, but also just talking to kids about what they are reading maybe they don’t have to write it down to reflect.

    Your writing brought back a funny story from my teaching days… we used to spend the first 15 minutes of class every day… EVERY day… reading… I was teaching 3rd grade, so it was easy for me (I know not for everyone), but I also read because I am a believer in modeling the behavior for my students. I forced myself away from everything else. The students knew if they were sick (like throwing up – to get the trash can and take care of themselves or go to the restroom – we already had established the guidelines). I would play soft music, students could find a nice place to read around the room, it was always a great way to start the day. This one day, I brought my book from home (it happened to be a Danielle Steele romance novel… LOL… you know… sometimes a girl just has to read ‘fluff stuff’) anyway, I was totally into my reading with my booked tucked under my desk. My principal walked in and I don’t know – she must have been in my room for at least 5-7 minutes before I even noticed her walking around the room… That’s what reading should be… uninterrupted, great reading… most days, we turned to our neighbors and shared something about what we were reading, a book recommendation, an author idea, a funny story from the book, something about the plot or character, an idea, the next book we are going to read… but as you say… I tried to create a passionate reading environment not bound by a journal, a sticker on the outside of the spine or a token.

    Thanks for always taking the time to say, write and share what others might be thinking.

  5. I agree and understand all of these points. My oldest liked to read until he got older and had to write a summary for his reading. My youngest however, never liked to read but was motivated to please his teacher by recording the title on a reading log. I myself LOVE to read and want this love to be passed to every child! I am also a K teacher. I have had parents just record the title when they read. This year I decided against it. I just sent books. At first I chose as they began to learn to read and then I let them choose. However as a teacher I just want to cry! I have seen reading at home take a down turn and over the last 5 years it just feels like it is shriveling. Not because I can tell by the reading logs, but when I sit to reread with children I can tell. Most will say no I do t read at home or my …doesn’t read with me. How do we get this to turn around????

  6. So much wisdom here. As a primary school librarian in England (a very rare breed in these times of austerity!) I think it is so important for children to have a wide range of reading matter to browse and to think of library time as their chance to take a chance on something outside their comfort zone. A lot of the most popular books are a bit subversive – naughty, rebellious children, WImpy Kid type comic book format, rebellion against adult authority, even toilet humour has its place. A little apparent trashiness is often a small price to pay for a child to feel they are in control over their reading choices and have autonomy. And often these are the very books that create a buzz and get them recommending stuff to their friends.

  7. My 16 year old use to read till high school. As a student with ADHD and Anxiety, the books required to read, anotatate while reading, keep in mind ideas for a future essay on book to support…. well, let’s just say it does not happen. When allowed to read books of interest he would read. He recently said, ” I like to read articles instead of books”. “Why”? I asked. He said because I get information quicker and in subjects I like like space, science and other topics. He said he can not stay focused long enough on the novels, but with articles he can complete and still get information.
    I have to say he is on to something. Today, I see kindergarten students being forced to read at what use to be a second grade level and they can not. What does this do? Makes them feel like a failure and destroyes the love to learn and read.

    1. I have a child with ADHD whose reading experience is very similar. He is so smart, but really does not enjoy reading books. He has learned to focus on completing chapters or sections of novels instead of the whole thing in order to get through them.

  8. Wow, thanks for saying this! I was an avid reader as a child. That was back in the 70’s and 80’s, way before reading journals, leveled readers and reader’s workshops. I started teaching as a second career and was shocked when, 4 years ago, as a first year teacher, I was introduced to all the reading requirements. Reading logs, reading responses, taking notes on stickies while reading, page requirements, having to identify different strategies while reading… I adored reading and had never done those things. I couldn’t imagine being asked to do those things and it was very hard to ask my students to do them. Its so important to find a balance in teaching the strategies and skills while letting kids just reading for the sake of reading.

  9. as an adult avid reader, I look back to my favorite ways to enjoy books. Elementary school, I loved to be read to…to hear the voice , and its many tones and inflections. I also savored a comfy spot , and solitude….maybe encouraging a little of both?

  10. I agree and disagree.

    Some amount of choice is critical. My fifth grade teachers would put out a selection of books and we got to choose from that selection. It became something to which I would look forward. However, if I think back to all the books I would not have read had I not been made to read them, there is a vast array of titles that have affected my life. One of the roles of a teacher (any teacher) is to help expand the student’s awareness, show them new things, help them find new experiences. Free choice would definitely limit this. Students would stick to the books they currently favor and potentially miss out on whole other experiences. I know I would have.

    And reflection… reflection is important and not important, depending on what you are trying to take from the experience of reading a book. It wasn’t until college that I feel I truly learned how read. How to finish a book, ask myself “what is this book trying to tell me?”, and then test my ideas against the book. I find that books that truly affect me are really only half understood during the reading. It’s when you reflect back on what you read, and ask yourself if the characters, the events, the symbols relied on by the author support that your reading of them, that you truly develop an understanding (as intended by the author or not) of the book.

    I wish I had learned to do this before college. I feel that most of the high school way of teaching this is to spoon feed the students what they should read into the text, what the author was presumed or documented have intended for the reader to understand, instead of giving them the tools do this themselves.

  11. Spot on. I teach first- and second-year writing classes at a large public university, and many of my students struggle to get interested in reading (which of course shows up in their writing). They themselves are often able to point to reading logs and AR in their k-12 years as having taught them that reading is a chore. One thing I’ve found very helpful is to assign not just essays as writing assignments, which too often allow them to gloss over the problems they had as readers but “difficulty papers” in which the student 1) identifies what they found interesting or challenging in the text, 2) establishes a central question and plans a strategy for engaging the text to explore that question, 3) reflects on how their understanding of the text grew and changed after applying the strategy, and 4) reflects on the effectiveness of the reading strategies they applied — what worked, what didn’t. The writing task is broken into chunks organically, and the student is thinking meta-cognitively about things like “why did I get bored here? Do I get bored when I’m confused?” and “will I understand this better if I know more about the author/the context in which this was written?”

  12. If I hadn’t been required in school to keep a reading log, I wouldn’t have a reading journal, which I began in 1965. I’m very grateful to the teacher who had us do that because skimming through my journal gives me great pleasure now. I don’t think much else was imposed on us other than we had to read the assigned books, which didn’t stop any of us from reading more on our own, which I always did. I suppose, though, that by the time I was in school, reading was something I loved, even if I couldn’t do it much on my own. My mother reading to me and always having books in the house and seeing how much my parents enjoyed it taught me that reading was a fun thing to do.

    As for not abandoning a book, I didn’t get that from a teacher. I got it from my mother who would read a book she didn’t like to the bitter end. It took me a very long time to stop doing it.

  13. I taught at risk high school kids-some of the worst of the worst. I let them pick the books to read often ordering them myself. The only requirement was that they had to summarize the book orally to me. Each student was individualized and could work at his or her own speed,knowing what they were responsible for the term. Some students would read for the entire ninety minute block some would read for a short time, but they all read. I often received comments from the kids stating “that is the first book I ever read. Are there more?” Sometimes I would give books to the kids. When they see me they tell me they are still reading.

  14. I think it’s all about balance. All of the things you list above are needed sometimes…but finding ways to give some control to the reader is crucial. Things like giving a choice of the next book to read from a selection of books can guide the reader while still giving them some control. Maybe a certain amount of forced reflection (like summarize or discuss 3 books each grading period…even if the child reads 15) rather than requiring anything more than a thumbs up or thumbs down for every single book read.

    My middle school son’s beef is close reading. He hates all of the tracking that he’s required to do as he reads his books for school. As an adult reader, I definitely sympathize. I know that close reading – analyzing all of the little things in written form – as I go would be a reading deterrent. I see its place, though. There has to be some balance to let kids enjoy the books they’re reading even while they’re learning to understand the finer points.

  15. I have used the Daily Five/CAFE structure for reading for the past 7 years in my second grade class. I’ve seen great growth in the love of reading even in children who were against reading, even if it took all year. This structure involves a lot of reading time in the classroom. The children are free to choose their books from my large classroom library. We talk about ‘good fit’ books in many mini-lessons and I bring examples from my own reading. They are free to choose where and how to sit as they read. As Daily Five time progresses I confer with individuals and invite them to read a bit of their current book. I’ll ask “So is this a good fit book for you?” More often than not they will be able to recognize a good fit book as they are reading it to me. This goes for even the die-hard “I must read the hardest chapter book in the room!” types. Instead of me telling them the book is too hard, they come to that understanding on their own and voluntarily start choosing the easier books. In a while they are reading the chapter books they so desire to read. Another great part of Daily Five is ‘read with someone’. (During each round they choose from 5 activities, Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Word Work, and Writing). I have seen many reluctant readers become engaged by reading with a friend. One year I had three boys in my room who were really reluctant to read. One day, one of them discovered a “Billy and Blaze” book and really liked it. The next time he did Read to Someone he happened to pick another reluctant reader who was his friend. That child shared the book with the third reluctant reader. They had soon burned through the 5 books in the series that I owned. They came to me one day and showed me the list of the books in the series and a list they had made of the ones I didn’t own. I was happy to promise that I would order all the rest. Thank goodness I have Amazon Prime with two day delivery because they hounded me until I was able to put the books in their hands! The experience of sharing these books helped them overcome whatever obstacles prevented them from enjoying reading. There are great reading benefits to each section of Daily Five, but they are all built around choice. I used mini-lessons to introduce and practice decoding and comprehension strategies, but always invited them to share which strategies they CHOSE to use. Often while reading with a child I would suggest a strategy that would help them and we would practice it. Then at the next mini-lesson, I would invite them to explain and demonstrate the strategy to the class. That gave high readers and low readers visibility and recognition for their efforts and showed that no matter where you were as a reader, there was always room to grow. As a newly retired teacher Daily Five time is one of the things I will miss the most, It is all about giving up control and allowing the children as much choice as possible.

  16. All of these are valid points. My biggest objection isn’t to the use of incentives, but the misuse. AR, logs, and other programs are tools, not evil entities out to kill reading, They are only as good or bad as the implementation. How they are implemented matters. I’ve had students take off with reading as they challenge themselves. I have never required participation but have made it available for those who want it. This isn’t for every kid. That’s the big idea here, you have to find what works for each student. As long as they are reading we are winning.

  17. Totally agree with this piece but hesitate to share widely. Why? Because you and I are both teachers and authors, so I cringe to see you’ve chosen to use the grammatically unsound spelling “alright” rather than “all right” in the graphic.

  18. Parents dont read. So theyre not going to read to the kid. Ppl dont read, cant just single out parents. But todays parents feel no compulsion to parent. Kids wake up to cartoons or pbs and come home to more cartoons and games on a tablet. Parents play video games or watch tv & use the cellphn when they get home. Summers and wkends are one big electronic orgy, running from activity to activity inbtwn.
    And ppl used to laugh about being hardwired into the Borg.

    1. My kids and I love to read. NONE of us enjoys being tead TO. We don’t like listening to someone pick the book apart to the nth degree or fill out paperwork afterward.

      I hate being forced to do this in class because I know I am killing the joy in teading for so many children.

  19. Completely agree with this! It always surprises me how few teachers read. If nothing else, how do you keep current with what your students are reading? And I abhor reading logs and AR. I teach Kindergarten and am required to do both of those. I’ve never known any child who became a better reader from having their parents complete a reading log or taking a test on AR.

  20. Oh my, yes. I’m not a teacher, but am a parent of two voracious middle grade readers. But I will say, they are readers despite reading logs and refections. Those they hate. And they hate the reading they do for them. They resent every moment. In fact, my kiddos refuse to take part in out library’s summer reading program even though they read a TON during the summer. They just can’t face another log. It makes me wonder how many kids give up reading at all as soon as they can.

  21. I have always loved to read, and I made good grades in school. The one exception was my reading grade when I was in the ninth grade in the early 2000s. At the beginning of the school year, we were given an AR reading level test. I scored within the college range. This meant that my teacher prohibited me from checking out any books below a certain grade point value. The only books in my entire school library that I was allowed to read for credit in my AR program were Gone with the Wind, Moby Dick, and a handful of nonfiction books. My grade was based on two metrics: reading quantity and comprehension test scores. My comprehension scores were high, but my quantity was low because I quickly ran out of books to read from our school’s tiny library. At the midterm, my overall reading grade was a 25. I had never made less than an A; I was panicking. I kept thinking that I should have intentionally done poorly on the initial teat so I could check out other books. Meanwhile, my low-scoring classmates had high grades because they were zipping through children’s books to reach their quantity goals and taking the easiest tests for comprehension. Some other students in a similar situation as mine formed a group to petition our reading teacher and our principal. Obviously, a system that rewarded students for slacking off while penalizing students who didn’t even need a class or program to feel motivated to read wasn’t working for our school. In fact, I spoke out because the program actually discouraged me from reading since I wasn’t allowed to read anything that I actually wanted to. Fortunately, my school did away with AR after that year, and I eventually returned to my love of reading. I am now an English professor, and I have been published multiple times. All of my publications are works of literary criticism, and I make sure that I always get to choose what I read and write about.

    1. Same here. I was assigned to read books that I would never read as an adult. (I hated “Moby Dick” by the way). College-level reading wasn’t appropriate to age-interest.

      Something is very wrong if the student has to force themselves to read the book. Does that not defeat the purpose of reading?

  22. Choice is a common – and, in my opinion, the most justified – complaint. Adults tend to pick books because they think they would have loved them when they were that age. That often results in subject matter that is not relatable or uninteresting due to culture changes.

    My school specifies the Newbery Medal books, which my students dislike for the sMe reasons I did when required to read them in the 1970s.

    Some people can’t stand being read to, resent being forced to pace slower readers – the list goes on.

    I told my junior-year English teacher that the only requirement to be labeled literature was a dreadful ending that leaves the reader so depressed they wonder why they bothered to read the book. “A Separate Peace” with its protagonist who maims his best friend and causes his death, still revolts me. Ditto for “Ethan Frome” and its whiny characters who end up living together in worse misery.

    Young people have complaints worth considering, yet some teachers can’t understand why they lose interest.

    Let them read what they wish. The point is that they ARE reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s