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

When We Punish Our Readers

Tomorrow my students will dig into their reading decisions over the past 6 weeks.  What have they read?  How much have they read?  What are they working on as readers?  Who have they shared books with? Are they growing or just being?

We do this in an effort for our kids to understand who they are as readers.  What they are doing well on and where they need to adjust.  They will figure out their comfortable reading rate.  They will see how much they should be reading on average in a week.  They will discuss the books they have read and those they have abandoned.  They will think, reflect, and set new goals.  I will mill around them, look at their reflection answers and support them any way I can.

Then they will share their reflections with those at home.

While many things will happen in tomorrow’s much too short lesson, there is a major thing that won’t.


For those kids who may not have read much, they will not lose privileges.

They will not be held back from recess.

They will not be punished into reading more in an effort to meet a goal set by me.

They will not be shamed.

They will not be separated from those where reading comes easy.

There will be no public dismissal of the kids whose reading lives are nor as established as others.

Why would there be?  How could we possible see positive change in those who are not reading, if we were to punish them?

Except in some schools, there are.

In some schools I see AR points, pages read, or books read used as a way to separate those who can and do read from those who can’t or won’t.  I see scores set by others determine how a child’s experience will be with reading in the future.

I see arbitrary measures shared with home as if the points from AR or another computerized test will truly tell the story of that child’s reading identity.

And I see punishment.  Privileges removed from the child who fails to meet their goal.  Reading rules implemented that instead of eliciting more positive reading experiences, completely undermine the entire experience.  And the kids stand idly by while we destroy their love of reading.

How has that ever been ok?  How have we ever agreed to this?  Have we lost our common sense when it comes to something as important as helping children become readers and remaining such?

So if you see this happening in your school, in your curriculum, to your child; I hope this post gives you courage.  I hope this post gives you pause.

We cannot punish children into reading.  We cannot make reading a punishment in itself.  We cannot let outside goals, set by us, determine what rights a child will have.

What we can do instead is support.  Is help.  Is create access to books and speak books with our students.  Give them time to read and have them do meaningful work.  Have them set goals that are meaningful to them and then help them accomplish them.  Help them reflect when they don’t.

We worry about helping children become readers but then fail to see our own hand in their unraveling.  Our kids deserve more than the punishment they get, why did we forget that?

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first 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.


3 thoughts on “When We Punish Our Readers”

  1. Great thoughts. Do you have (or know of) any resource or goal setting form for Elementary (2nd Grade)?

    I use AR sparingly in class; more as an incentive for some. I have actually had 2 parents wonder why I was not allowing their kids to test more (even to the point where wanted out of my class). I responded that my desire, first, is to encourage a love of reading and for some of my students, I have nearly destroyed that love by pushing points for no other reason than points…And yes, I have been guilty of punishing their lack of reading with more reading…while the others get a treat/party…

    I am recovering. Since our school also uses AR, I am trying to find a positive way to incorporate it in as well as encouraging reading…Not sure how, but I’m thinking about it.

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