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On Becoming a Lifelong Reader

I was recently driving with my seven year old son. We were talking about his school year, as it was coming to an end, and the conversation turned to books that he liked reading this year. He told me that he loved Cam Jansen. He read all of the books from the series that were in his classroom. Then he said, “I am a mystery reader. I just love reading mystery books!” As my eyes widened, and I worked to keep a cool composure, I casually said, “Oh that’s great! Are mystery books the only kind of book you like to read?” “Hmmm….I also like books that teach you about places in the world. They tell you true stuff,” he replied. “Nonfiction?” I asked. “Yeah, I am a reader who loves non-fiction and mystery books,” he said. My reading teacher heart grew a couple of sizes bigger, as I quickly remembered a conversation from the fall when he was adamant that he was a G reader and that’s it. His teacher told him he could pick some G books for his just right books. My son missed that G was not the only thing he should be reading. That as readers we are not just a letter.

I know that for so many of my students, and for some of their parents, growing as a reader means moving up letters. Developing a reading identity is not a factor in growing as a reader. This year one of biggest things that my son’s teacher and I focused on was developing his reading identity. For us that meant helping him to conventionally read a text with fluency and expression, but also to think more deeply about the text. We pushed him to read lots of just right books, but also to read books that were not in his leveled basket (picture books, poetry, nonfiction). We taught him how to grow ideas about the text, but then to ask why questions (Why do I think that? What do I like/dislike about this text?). By doing some reading reflection we knew he would be exposed to different kinds of texts, and learn that as readers we have thoughts and reactions to the texts we read. All of this would help him to build his reading identity, and set us him on a path to becoming a lifelong reader.

Last summer I heard Kathy Collins speak at Teachers College. She talked about developing a joy theory when it comes to our kids and their learning. I was struck by this idea because when kids see themselves as just one thing (like just a G reader) they are without joy. Kathy said to help build joy we need to think about:

  • Creating environments where joy happens

  • Creating conditions where joy happens

  • Providing opportunities for joy

I realized the idea of a joy theory is the foundation for developing a strong reading identity. When my son started to understand more about himself as a reader I began to see his joy when he read or talked about books.

As summer settles in we want kids reading. We want for summer reading to be joyful and not to feel like a chore or assignment or punishment. One way to help kids find joy in reading is to begin building their reading identities. Some ideas for building a reading identity are:

Be a reading model for kids- When we open up our reading lives to kids we talk to them about what we are reading, why we are reading it, how we chose the text, and what we think about it.

Read Aloud- Donalyn Miller says, “We do not age out of the benefits of read aloud.” When we read aloud we can model joy and excitement, while creating opportunities to talk with kids about what we think, and how we feel about the text we are reading.

Give kids language to help them think and reflect- Some sentence starters include:

-I think…..

-I wonder…..

-This made me feel…..

-I liked/disliked this because…..

-This feels like…..

-I picked this because…..

-I like/dislike these kinds of books because…….

-This feels good/not good for me because…..

-I am the kind of reader who……

Allow for reading, thinking, and talking to happen in a variety of ways- Some ideas include:

-Read stories

-Read magazines

-Read poetry

-Read recipes

-Read reviews

-Read directions

-Read letters

I believe that this was a powerful reading year for my son. One reason it was powerful was because he secured decoding strategies that will set him on the path to becoming a fluent and accurate reader. But, perhaps, the second and most important reason this year was so powerful is that my son has an idea of who he is as a reader. He understands not just what he likes to read, but why he likes to read different types of texts. I think that in developing a reading identity he is on a better course for becoming a lifelong reader.

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